Healthy Dining Out

Last updated: Aug 07, 2012

By Joy Pierce Mathews for Summit Medical Group

Reviewed by Susan Canonico, RD

 


Eating out need not preempt a healthy, well-balanced, and calorie-conscious diet. More than ever before, restaurants offer healthy options, including low-fat and low-calorie meals. Chefs are often willing to accommodate reasonable requests to make healthy changes in their dishes. But keeping your restaurant meals healthy and within your daily and weekly calorie limits means taking charge of what ends up in your stomach!

“People who are successful at achieving and maintaining a healthy weight stick with a diet strategy no matter where they eat,” says Summit Medical Group registered dietitian Susan Canonico. “One of the keys to a healthy weight is deciding what matters more—your long-term weight and health goals or short-term satisfaction.” Ms. Canonico adds, “Because it’s natural to deviate from healthy food choices on occasion, having an overall plan for your meals, snacks, and drinks can make all the difference in how well you control your weight.”

To maintain a healthy diet strategy whether you’re home or out, always:

  • Plan ahead
    Make decisions about the kinds of foods you should eat for the majority of your meals and snacks. When you’re presented with something that contains more calories than recommended in your plan, decide whether you’re willing to add or whether you’d rather forego the extra calories. Visit the restaurant's website and choose what you'll eat before you arrive
     
  • Count calories
    Read labels, look up calorie counts, and keep an ongoing tally of calories you consume from the start to the end of your day
     
  • Skimp on serving sizes
    Most meal portions in restaurants are double or triple the size that is recommended; make a habit of eating only half of the servings you receive; if you want to indulge in a big meal out, cut your portions throughout the day to make room for the extra calories
     
  • Be honest with yourself about what you’ve eaten
    Take time throughout the day to remember what you’ve eaten or write down your meals, snacks, and drinks so you know exactly how many calories you’ve eaten

Ms. Canonico advocates a manageable approach to eating. “Most people can’t sustain extreme diets,” she says. “For this reason, I recommend building in some extra low-calorie snacks and meals during the week that allow a margin for extra calories when you eat out or when you want to indulge in an occasional treat.”

When you eat away from home, try these effective tips for maintaining a healthy diet:

  • Leverage low-calorie options
    Instead of bread and butter, fill up on a leafy green salad or sliced raw vegetables; ask for dressing on the side and minimize how much you use
  • Advocate appetizers
    Most entrées are larger and have many more (sometimes 5 to 10 times the number of) calories than recommended for a single meal; try having a light appetizer or 2 instead of a heavy entrée
  • Highlight healthy sides 
    Replace French fries with sliced raw or steamed vegetables or a salad
  • Divide your dish
    Many restaurant entrées are enough food for 2 or 3 people. Splitting an entrée often will leave you feeling completely satisfied!
  • Target low-fat toppings
    Cucumber, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, salsa, relish, ketchup, mustard, and low-fat or fat-free dressings are good alternatives to toppings such as cheese and high-calorie dressings
  • Shun sugary drinks
    Enjoy a glass of icy cold water, refreshing seltzer with lemon or lime, unsweetened tea, and skim milk instead of sugary drinks like soda and fruit juice (which can have as many calories as a soda)
  • Ditch dessert
    Avoid dessert altogether or replace traditional choices such as ice cream, cake, cookies, and pies with fresh fruit. If you choose a traditional dessert, share it with everyone at the table and enjoy only a bite or 2
  • Slowly savor each bite
    It takes about 20 minutes to feel full. Eating slowly increases the odds that you will eat and feel satisfied with less food

“Whether you eat out or at home, there are a few things you should limit or avoid on most occasions,” says Ms. Canonico, “including:”

  • Pan-fried, batter-fried, and sautéed foods
  • Butter- and cream-based sauces
  • Bread and chips
  • Alcohol—women should have no more than 1 drink and men should have no more than 2 drinks daily


For more information from
or to schedule an appointment
with Susan Canonico, RD,
please call Summit Medical Group Nutrition Services today
at 908-277-8731.
 

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