With lunches out,
after-work parties and family celebrations, you probably eat out more
than ever before. But what about your desire to eat healthy? Do you need
to sacrifice your healthy meal plan because you're away from home? Not
at all. Simply make wise meal choices and practice moderation in portion
control and menu selections.
Determining the best menu options
Ordering food at a
restaurant may seem like an easy task: Read through the menu and decide
what to order. But how do you know which items are your best choices and
which may be loaded with fat and calories?
First, read item
descriptions. If none is available, ask your server what's in the meal
and how it's prepared. Choose dishes based on fruits, vegetables and
whole grains rather than those based on meat. Plant-based foods are
naturally low in fat and calories and are good sources of vitamins,
minerals and fiber. Fish and seafood also are good meal options.
Also, certain cooking
terms can give you a basic idea of a food's nutritional makeup. Look for
descriptions that indicate low-fat preparation or ingredients.
stir-fried in a small amount of oil, broth or water
A la king
Alfredo, unless low
stir-fried in heavy oil
Navigating through each course
You can find healthy
options within each course of the meal. Here's help in wading through
Appetizers. Choose appetizers with vegetables, fruits
or fish. Tomato juice, fresh fruit compote and shrimp cocktail served
with lemon make healthy hors d'oeuvre options. Avoid fried or breaded
Soup. Choose broth-based or tomato-based soups, such
as minestrone, vegetable or gazpacho. Creamed soups, chowders, pureed
soups and sometimes fruit soups can contain heavy cream or egg yolks.
Ask for the soup's ingredients to be certain.
Salad. Order lettuce or spinach salad with dressing
on the side, preferably a low-fat or fat-free version. Caesar, Greek
and taco salads tend to be higher in fat and calories. Similarly, chef
salads can be high in fat, cholesterol and calories because of the
added dressing, cheese, eggs and meat.
Bread. Choose whole-grain breads, rolls, breadsticks,
crackers or bagels. Muffins, garlic toast and croissants have more
calories and fat. If you have a bread basket at your table, take one
piece and ask your server to remove the basket. Use only small amounts
of added fat — such as margarine, butter or olive oil — or use none at
Side dish. Choose a baked potato, boiled new
potatoes, steamed vegetables or rice instead of french fries, potato
chips, onion rings or mayonnaise-based salads. Ask that the potatoes,
vegetables or rice come without butter or cream sauces.
Entree. Look for descriptions that indicate lower-fat
preparations, such as London broil, grilled chicken breast,
lemon-baked fish or broiled shish kebabs. Avoid items with high-fat
descriptors, such as prime rib of beef, veal parmigiana, stuffed
shrimp, fried chicken, fettuccine Alfredo, filet mignon with bearnaise
sauce, shrimp tempura or fried rice. Choose pasta primavera or
linguine with red tomato or clam sauce. Skip pasta with meat or cheese
stuffing or sauces that contain bacon, butter, cream or eggs.
Dessert. Finish the main meal before ordering
dessert. By the time you're done, you may not even want dessert. If
you do order dessert, split it with your companions or take half of it
home. Tasty and healthy dessert options include fresh fruit, gelatin,
angel food cake, sorbet or sherbet.
Cut back on the extras
instinctively add salt, butter, sauces and dressing to their food —
sometimes even before tasting. Hold back. Well-prepared food needs
If your meal comes with
a sauce or dressing, ask for it on the side and use the fork-dip-food
technique. Dab your fork in the sauce and then pick up your food. This
allows you to enjoy the sauce but limits the amount. In addition,
substitute healthier condiments. For example, use mustard rather than
mayonnaise, or pepper or lemon juice instead of salt.
Also, watch what and
how much you drink. Many beverages contain a large number of calories.
For example, a large soda (32 ounces) has about 400 calories. Instead,
order diet soda, water, unsweetened iced tea, sparkling water or mineral
water with a twist of lemon. For a hot drink, try black, decaffeinated
coffee or black or green tea, minus the sugar and other extras.
Remember, too, that
alcohol also contains many calories, and it may further stimulate your
appetite and decrease your inhibitions about overeating. And "light"
drinks may not be as light as you think. For example, a 12-ounce regular
beer has about 145 calories and the same-sized light beer has about 100
calories. Enjoy these drinks in moderation.
Watch your portion sizes
Many, if not most,
restaurants serve oversized portions, which equates to extra food and an
increased amount of calories, fat, cholesterol and sodium. Avoid these
excessively large portions. This not only will cut down on your fat and
calories, but also allows you to eat a wider variety of foods during a
meal. Eating a variety of foods ensures that you get all of the energy,
protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber you need.
Serving sizes: Keeping your food portions in check
Though it may cost
more, ordering a la carte gives you a variety of foods and smaller
quantities. Try making a meal out of broth-based rather than cream-based
soup along with some appetizers. As above, select broiled, baked or
steamed appetizers rather than their deep-fried counterparts. Try these
other suggestions for keeping your portion sizes down:
- Ask if you can have
a lunch portion, even if you're eating dinner. Or simply request a
When it's difficult to gauge the portion size of a particular food
item on the menu — such as toppings for a baked potato — ask for it on
the side. You then control how much sour cream to spoon onto your
Split a meal with a companion, particularly when you know the
restaurant serves larger portions.
Request a to-go container when the meal arrives. Immediately place
half of the food into the container for the next day's meal.
Eat only until your hunger is satisfied. If you're tempted to clean
your plate, ask your server to remove the dishes.
Buffets may prove
especially challenging when trying to eat smaller portion sizes. Large
amounts of food and the freedom to go back for a second or third helping
may lead to excess. It's also tempting to regard buffet dining as a
personal challenge — to get your money's worth by eating a lot. To limit
the amount of food you eat, survey the entire buffet line, then decide
what you want and take only that. Make salad minus the high-fat
dressings and toppings, such as cheese and croutons, your first course.
Then, go back for an entree. Fill up on plenty of vegetables that don't
have added butter, margarine or sauces.
Select your fast-food meals carefully
Many meal options at
fast-food restaurants contain large amounts of fat and calories. For
example, a double cheeseburger, large french fries and medium soda has
about 1,510 total calories and 66 grams of fat. Some fast-food
franchises do offer several lighter-fare items, such as salads and
grilled chicken. But watch for dressings, sauces and other condiments
that can boost your meal's fat and calorie content. Bottom line: Be
choosy. These guidelines can help:
Consider for breakfast fresh fruit, unsweetened fruit juice, cereal
with skim or 1 percent milk, fat-free muffins, or pancakes without
butter and a small amount of syrup.
Order smaller portions. For example, a single small hamburger instead
of a double, or a small fries instead of a large. Also limit high-fat,
high-calorie burger toppings and condiments, such as bacon, cheese,
mayonnaise, sauces and dressings.
Choose unbreaded poultry items, such as broiled or grilled chicken or
sliced turkey sandwiches. Or order a veggie sandwich minus high-fat
Request sandwiches on whole-wheat bread or pita bread.
Remove breading and use a napkin to absorb extra oil if you order a
Load your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables if the restaurant has
a salad bar. Look for low-fat or fat-free dressings. Limit cheese,
eggs and croutons.
Order a baked potato topped with vegetables, or order a whole-grain
bagel. Ask for the butter, margarine or dressings on the side.
Cut back on ketchup, mustard, sauces and pickles if you need to
control sodium. Also, skip salted french fries, chips, ham, sausage,
bacon and cheese.
Avoid milk shakes and dessert items such as pies and sundaes with
syrup. Try fresh fruit or a flavored coffee with skim milk.
Eat healthy, no matter where you are
You can healthy away
from home. In fact, dining out offers a great opportunity to enjoy a
variety of healthy foods, without having to prepare them or do the
clean-up work yourself. Don't let large portions, unfamiliar menus and
tempting desserts discourage you from your goal to eat healthy. Whether
checking out a new restaurant or celebrating a special occasion at a
favorite bistro, you can have your healthy diet and eat it, too.