Healthy Dining Out Strategies

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Healthy Dining

How often did you dine out when you were a kid?

I'm guessing not very often - or, at least, less often than you do now. Likely it was only on rare occasions. These days, it can be a rare occasion when people eat at home!

Whether eating for convenience at a fast food joint on a busy weeknight or to celebrate with friends on special occasions, dining out in restaurants is a favorite pastime. As a dietitian this concerns me because restaurants tempt us with big portions and rich, fattier fare.

It's easy to get caught up in the fun and eat more than planned. (Learn more about menu planning.)

The number of calories in just one restaurant meal (including appetizers and side dishes) can add up to as much as 2,500 calories! That's more calories than most people need in a whole day. (Determine your daily calorie requirement.)

The good news?

You can dine out without blowing your healthy eating and weight loss goals.

Look around you next time you go out...

Are there any healthy, thin people in the restaurant? I'm sure there are. You could be one of them! You can, that is, if you commit to a strategy of healthy dining out.

Here are the strategies my clients find most helpful:

Healthy Dining Strategy #1: Eat a Snack Before You Go

For real! A healthy snack. The worst thing you could ever do is to arrive at a restaurant overly hungry! It's one of the most common mistakes I see.

Have you ever skimped during the day in anticipation of dining out?

  • You're starving when you get to the restaurant,
  • You inhale the bread basket while you wait for your meal,
  • Since you've already been "bad," you figure you might as well order the fettucine alfredo...
  • ...and the death by chocolate for dessert.
  • You then vow to start eating healthfully or following your weight loss regimen...tomorrow.

Don't let this happen to you! Curb your appetite by grabbing an apple, a small handful of nuts, some lowfat string cheese, a hard boiled egg, or a few turkey slices before you head out the door.

Healthy Dining Strategy #2: Share a Meal or Order 1/2 To Go

Chances are, the meal you are ordering is enough for two people...maybe even three! Portion sizes have increased 40% in the last 30 years, making portion control a real challenge!

Studies show that when served more, people eat more. (It seems like common sense, but people actually research and prove these kinds of things!)

So buddy up and share a meal!

But what if no one wants to split what you want to order, or what if you are dining alone?

Out of sight, out of mind. Ask the waiter/waitress to doggie bag or box half the meal when you order, that is, before being served.

Healthy Dining Strategy #3: Order Dressings and Sauces on the Side

A lot of calories and/or sodium (water weight!) are lurking in what you use to dress your salad or top your baked potato.

If you order your high calorie toppers on the side, you - not the chef - are in control of your calories and portions.

Healthy Dining Strategy # 4: Avoid the Menu

For some reason, most people don't find it very exhilarating to go to a restaurant and order plain broiled fish and steamed vegetables. Dining out is synonymous with ordering something "fun" and indulgent.

This would be fine if dining out occurred infrequently. But if eating out is part of your regular routine, consider adopting this approach (at least some of the time):

Don't open the menu! Chances are you will be tempted.

You may be thinking "grilled fish" before you open the menu, but you may find yourself thinking "bloomin' onion" or "16 oz. filet mignon," after you do.

Order what you know will be a healthy (or healthier) meal without even looking at the menu (salad with dressing on the side, grilled chicken or fish, steamed or grilled vegetables).

Healthy Dining Strategy #5: Know What You Will Eat in Advance

Chances are you eat at a handful of restaurants. If you know you'll be going back to a restaurant, take home a carry out menu and, at your leisure, review it. Take some time to decide on 1-2 healthy meals you could order at this restaurant. (And any other restaurant you eat at regularly.)

This way you'll be prepared for next time!

Unsure of what the healthy options are? Many restaurants post their menus online and sometimes even their nutrition information. Take a few hours one day and surf your way to your usual restaurants.

You can also use this healthy dining finder to locate healthy restaurant options in your area.

I can help you too if you want! Contact me.

If making dinner = making reservations, don't worry...

...healthy dining IS possible!

More on Healthy Eating.

Your Personal Nutrition Guide home.

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