Tips for Eating Healthier at Restaurants

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If only we all were gourmet chefs or at least have the time to create amazing dishes for every single meal of the day, we would probably always eat at home. The eating culture has shifted tremendously over the past few decades, with dining out increasing from 18% of daily intake to 33%. Most of us know how unhealthy many restaurant choices are, especially in the fast food world, but we continue to consume it more than we should. Even the “healthier” items on the menu such as salads and vegetable dishes are loaded with calories from the extra fat and sugar added to the cooking process to make it taste much better than home-cooked meals. The highly processed and fat or sugar-laden foods are what cause eating addiction, which is a reason why more people continue to crave restaurant meals.

Studies have indicated that increased frequency of foods eaten away from home is linked to a higher body mass index and poorer diet quality. Diet quality in these cases was described as the amount of fruit, vegetable, and processed food consumption. Most studies showed that women tend to make healthier foods choices at restaurants than men by choosing more fruits and vegetables with their meals. Unfortunately, even choosing these healthy foods does not equate to overall fewer calories and fat. By no means should these facts about restaurants keep you from going out for date night or an enjoyable evening with friends. There are several ways to stick with your diet while eating out without too much sacrifice.

Prepare

If you are truly trying to stick to your healthy diet and have the opportunity to choose the restaurant when going out for a social occasion, it is best to take some time to research a few different places with a wide range of menu items. If the restaurant is already chosen, you can still look up the menu ahead of time and select a few dish options that fall into the healthy category. If the choices still seem high in calories, you can plan to eat much lighter meals throughout the day leading up to your outing. If you are willing to forgo an entree at the restaurant and instead order an appetizer as your main dish, then you will most likely save about half of the calories as long as you carefully choose a healthier option. To make sure that you are satisfied come meal’s end, have a small snack at home beforehand such as a few crackers and cheese, yogurt with nuts, or a protein shake.

Control Portions

This is probably the most difficult task for most people, yet the lack of this task is the reason why most Americans are overweight. At restaurants it is very easy to consume too many calories even with their smallest available portions, so the easiest way to downsize those calories is to choose low calorie foods to begin with. Unfortunately, side dishes such as potatoes, rice, and pasta do not fall into this category, unless you can be satisfied with only a couple of forkfuls worth. Vegetables and salads are the best choices, but it is important to keep in mind that most restaurants will cook the veggies in oil and butter to enhance the taste so they will not be as low-calorie as you would think.

Eating out will usually include many more courses than you would typically have at home. Bread will be served, followed by an appetizer, entrée, and dessert. If you choose to have the bread, simply pick just one piece out of the basket and limit the amount of butter or oil you use. Share an appetizer and dessert with your party rather than trying to portion out an entire one on your own. The highest calorie items that are best to stay away from are fried foods, fatty meats, cream-based soups and pastas, and those delicious-looking baked desserts. Opt for small portions of lean meats and fish, vegetable side dishes, and fruit for dessert.

Choose Intuitively

The best advice is to always think before you eat anything. If you truly do not care for something, do not waste your calorie bank on it. Most people end up eating whatever food is on their plate. If you crave meat more than the carb-loaded side dishes, then make sure to order your steak with green vegetables as a side so that you are not tempted to eat potatoes or rice. For those who have an extreme sweet tooth and look forward to dessert more than anything then skip the bread, have a small appetizer as your main dish, and indulge in the dessert that you truly enjoy most.

Eat Slowly

You may have read in some research that eating alone without any distractions such as company, the computer, or television is a smarter way to keep track of portions and eat less overall. Conversing over meals causes us to not pay attention to how much we are eating or drinking. Teaching ourselves to eat our meals as slowly as possible takes some training. Some steps to practice are cutting food into smaller bite-sized pieces, savor the flavors of your food by chewing more times, putting down utensils in between bites, and eating with your non-dominant hand.

Beverages Count

Whether you are into alcoholic beverages or sodas, calories can add up tremendously. A glass of wine equates to around 130 calories, so if you share a bottle with your significant other, you are adding about 300 to 350 calories to your meal. Light beer and hard liquor are lower calorie choices with about 100 and 70 calories per serving respectively. The drinks to watch out for are mixed cocktails and specialty beverage items. Some are mixed with soda adding double the calories, while others can get into the 700-calorie range if you choose a cream-based or sweetened one such as a margarita, pina colada, or a long island iced tea. If possible, stick to just one serving of your favorite lower-calorie drink and have two sips of water for every sip of other beverage you have.

When on a diet, going out to eat should not be eliminated. There are ways to be able to enjoy your time out with family or friends while sticking with your healthy meal plan. If you go off a bit more than you would have liked, do not be hard on yourself. One night of “bad” eating will not ruin all of the progress you have made. What is an issue with most people’s diets is dining out several times a week. Unfortunately, as much as we try to make the healthiest choices at restaurants, it is important to remember that we truly do not know exactly how the food is cooked, and most are cooked with butter, oil, extra sugar and salt to create those delicious flavors. Enjoy yourself as you dine, keeping these simple tips in mind, so that you can guarantee you will not undo all of that hard work you have put into getting and staying healthy.

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