Making Healthier Choices When Eating Out

On a typical day, Canadians make almost 18 million visits to commercial restaurants. That’s half the population of Canada! Don’t think Americans are any better when it comes to eating out though. A recent government study showed that Americans get 11% of their daily calories from fast food. Yikes!

restaurantlogos2There is no denying that eating out is convenient, fast and even cheap in some cases. Besides, who doesn’t like a night out where someone else cooks for you and does the dishes?!! People often think of eating out as a treat and reason they should be able to eat anything, which leads to unhealthy and non-nutritious food choices. Eating out can absolutely be a treat, but the problem today is the frequency with which we are eating out. As noted above, eating out is a part of many people’s daily life. If we are going to eat out so much, there are things we can and should be doing to help us make healthier choices.

How can you make better choices when eating out?

  • Choose menu items smaller in size (e.g. ½ size option vs. full-size or “dinner size”)
    • If there is no smaller option on the menu, when your food arrives, immediately cut your meal in half. Eat only half and take home the rest for lunch or dinner tomorrow. Not only do you avoid over-eating extra fat/carbs, you get two meals out of one! Or simply share your entrée with someone
  • Order your meats grilled or broiled. “Fried” and “breaded” meats are the worst choice you can make!
  • Avoid fried foods at all costs! (Yes, this includes french fries! Substitute a baked potato, rice, plain mashed potatoes or simply forgo the starch in your meal altogether)
  • Choose sides such as steamed or grilled vegetables or salad in place of french fries or potatoes.
  • Avoid calorie-filled appetizers and desserts
    • Appetizers are most often WORSE for you than main dishes. I’ve heard of people ordering two appetizers instead of a main course because they were trying to be more healthy. The reality is they probably ended up eating more calories than they would’ve if they had just eaten a main course!
    • 99% of all desserts at restaurants come in a box. Why pay $7 for a boxed slice of cake when you could go home and enjoy some fresh fruit, or a homemade healthy dessert like Black Bean Brownies instead?!
  • It is always good to remember the four pillars of a nutritious diet: adequacy, balance, moderation and variety!

Other tips:

  • Eat a piece of fruit or drink a glass of water before going out. This will take the edge off your hunger and make you less likely to overeat.
  • Order beverages with few or no calories, such as water or tea.
  • Avoid whole-milk lattes and other coffee drinks with cream or whipped cream. Select reduced fat or skim milk to add to your favorite coffee drink.
  • Order broth-based soups instead of cream-based soups.
  • Avoid dishes with cream sauces and a lot of cheese.
  • Order a salad with low-fat or non-fat dressing served on the side. Many restaurants drown their salads in excess dressing. This way, you can control how much dressing you consume.
  • Skip dessert or share one dessert with several friends. Another healthful alternative is to order fresh fruit for dessert or simply eat your dessert at home.
  • If you should choose an appetizer, choose salads with dressings on the side and light dressings if available, fresh fruit, tomato juice, clear soups (not cream-based) etc.
  • Order all sauces on the side if you can.
  • At a buffet, survey the entire buffet first before piling a mountain of food on your plate. Start with a clear soup, fruit, vegetables or a salad with only a drizzle of dressing. Skip all salads laden with mayo or oil (e.g. potato salad). Choose chicken or fish and cooked vegetables. For dessert, take a small spoonful of a couple of desserts you would like to sample and then fill your plate with fruit. Remember to take reasonable portions! Buffets are terrible temptations for us to overeat!
  • Finally, choose restaurants that have nutritious choices (i.e. Don’t let every meal out be at McDonalds!)

Restaurant eating doesn’t have to be unhealthy! There are better choices you can make than a burger and fries! I’d like to start a new “segment” I guess you could call it, where I delve into a restaurant’s nutritional information and find the healthier options on the menu. Stay tuned!

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