Healthier Choices While Dining Out
Remember Where, What and How for healthy choices the next time you eat out.
When I was a little girl, going out to eat with my family was a special occasion. It didn’t happen often, and it felt so extraordinary that I’d order things I’d never eat at home. That’s certainly not the case now. I buy lunch at least twice a week, our family goes out to dinner about once a week, and takeout food graces our table several times a month.
Raise your hand if this sounds like you.
If your anniversary marks a rare dinner out and truly is a once-a-year treat, then this article isn’t for you. But for the rest of us, dining out is more a normal occurrence than a special occasion. If that’s your life, celebrate that you don’t have to prepare or clean up after this meal. And consider these four things: where to eat, what to choose, how to eat, and how much to have.
Where to Eat: Choose a restaurant that serves healthy options you like. Most places have at least a few healthful choices on their menu—or dishes that can be made healthful with a tweak or two. Many chain restaurants have nutrition facts online so you can make educated choices. Yet, there are still some places with very few dishes that aren’t deep fried or smothered. Try to avoid those!
What to Choose: When choosing your meal, you probably can’t justify deep fried anything, cheese or alfredo sauce, more than six ounces of meat, or a dessert with an entire day’s worth of fat and calories. Keep that in mind.
If you can, research nutrition information online, then you can be armed with notes outlining healthful choices. If you can’t do that, learn the code words on menus. Avoid options using words like breaded, smothered, crispy, au gratin, creamy or butter sauce. Instead, embrace foods described as broiled, roasted, grilled or steamed.
More ordering tips: It’s OK to be high maintenance! Ask for sauces and dressings on the side. And for your food to be prepared with no added salt, minimal oil or butter, and request steamed vegetables or a side salad instead of fries or chips. Ask if brown rice or whole wheat pasta is available.
Also, stick with water or unsweetened iced tea. Why waste calories and money if the food is the main attraction? Limit alcohol since it tends to make you eat more—plus there are extra calories in alcohol and mixers.
By the way, if you’re the first to order, you’re less likely to be influenced by less-than-healthy choices of others at your table!
How to Eat: Once your food arrives, take a moment to appreciate the colors and textures on your plate. Appreciate that someone prepared it just for you, and you didn’t have to prepare it yourself!
Then enjoy your food mindfully to truly relish the meal. Sip water. Put your fork down between bites. Concentrate on your dinner companions and conversation or the quirky decorations on the wall. Eat slowly, since it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to catch up with your stomach when you’re full.
How Much to Have: Portions served in restaurants 30 years ago were much closer to an appropriate serving size than those we see today. Because we eat quickly, are trained to clean our plates, and are conditioned to see large portions, we often eat much more food than our bodies need.
If half or lunch-sized portions are available, consider that option. Studies show that people tend to eat more when served more, yet are no more satisfied than when served smaller portions.
Share your entrée or appetizer with a dining companion, but always request your own salad. Ask for a take-home box to be delivered with your meal. You can box half or more of the meal before you even start eating. If you don’t want the leftovers, put a napkin on top of your plate to avoid picking at the food that’s still there.
We’re Only Human
These tips aren’t meant to ruin your good time or make you feel guilty for an occasional indulgence. Just consider them a reminder that frequently dining out can lead to indulging more than we intended. And be assured that healthful food can be quite tasty!
We might not always choose the perfect healthful option. And we may sometimes eat more than we should or order a cocktail or dessert because it just sounds so good! It happens. Just get back on track with your healthy habits. You’re in this for the long haul, not just one meal.
And remember to move around more, be proud of the healthy behaviors you do accomplish, and eat an extra veggie or two.
Oh, and make sure to tip your server well for coming through for you!
Kim Knipe has degrees in Business Administration from Bucknell University, Nutrition and Dietetics from West Chester University and a Master’s in Business Administration from West Chester University. She devotes her energy toward helping others live healthy lifestyles as the Coordinator for Community Nutrition and Outreach at Chester County Hospital. ChesterCountyHospital.org.
back to top