Eating out can present a challenge when you’re trying to lose weight or maintain your current weight. Super-sized portions, high-fat sauces, and carbohydrate-heavy ingredients significantly increase the calorie count of many of your favorite restaurant foods. Add a few alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks and you just might find that you’re eating your entire daily calorie intake in one meal. But, eating out doesn’t have to derail your healthy eating plans if you know what to look for when you open that restaurant menu.
The Restaurant Difference
If restaurant food tastes better to you than the food you cook yourself, chances are you are ordering meals with sauces, oils, cheese, bacon, and other ingredients you wouldn't normally use at home. While these ingredients boost the taste of foods, they also increase the calorie level. If you prepare three ounces of ground beef at home, you’ll consume 200 calories. Add a bun for 100 calories and a tablespoon of ketchup for 15 calories plus some lettuce, tomato, and dill pickles for an insignificant amount of calories, and your homemade burger will top off at 315 calories.
Eating out isn't so simple. Eating out is as much as visual experience as a dining experience. Menus show mouthwatering photographs of food, making it hard to resist that McDonald’s Angus Bacon and Cheese Burger (750 calories) or the T.G.I. Friday’s Jack Daniel Burger (1,360 calories). While restaurant burgers may share a name with your homemade version, they aren’t the same. Restaurant and fast food burgers are often two to three times the size of homemade burgers and may include extra touches such as cheese, bacon, mayonnaise that increase calories. Whether you order hamburgers, pasta, or salad, it’s important to be alert for those special extra ingredients that can add too many calories, fats, sugars, and carbohydrates to your meal. By following the healthy eating tips below, you can ensure that you are in control of your healthy eating plan when you dine at a restaurant.
Dining Out Tips
Check out restaurant menus online before your visit. You’ll find that many restaurants provide nutritional data on their websites. Reviewing this information before you leave home will ensure that you don’t feel pressured into ordering the first thing you see on the menu.
Pay attention to portion sizes. One serving of meat or poultry is about the same size as a deck of cards, but portion sizes in restaurants are usually much larger than the recommended serving sizes. Choose the smallest entrée size possible when ordering. If portions are particularly large, eat half and ask for a doggie bag for the remainder, or offer to split an entrée with a friend or family member.
Make an appetizer your meal if you see that portion sizes are large. Add a side order of vegetables.
Skip the bread basket or bowl of tortilla chips. Tell the waiter or waitress you don’t want the basket or bowl on your table to avoid temptation.
Ask for sauces and gravies on the side. Restaurants tend to drench foods in these items, which increases the calorie count. Ordering sauces and gravies separately allows you to control the amount you use.
Find out if substitutes are available for high fat foods. Although you might not see these versions on the menu, the restaurant may be happy to provide you with a lower fat substitute if you ask.
Make smart salad choices. Choose salads that feature lettuce and vegetables only. Cheese, bacon, and croutons add extra calories. Pick a low-calorie, low-fat dressing and ask the waiter to serve it on the side.
Choose foods that are broiled, roasted, steamed, grilled, blackened, or baked, rather than fried. Frying requires oil or butter, which adds calories to your meal.
Drink water, low-fat milk, or drinks that don’t contain added sugar. Avoid soft drinks, milkshakes, and specialty coffees.
Stay away from the buffet. Unlimited food also means unlimited calories.
Select vegetables for your side dish rather than a baked potato or French fries.
Forget about dessert. If you can’t resist indulging, share a dessert with a friend or order fruit or one scoop of low-fat ice cream.
The Bottom Line
By making a few simple changes to your usual eating out routine, you can enjoy a tasty meal without any regrets.
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