20 Tips for Eating Out

Eating out has become entirely too frequent. What used to be treated as a special occasion is now a weekly, biweekly or even daily event. The average American eats out at least 4 times per week. Meals eaten out are often higher in fat (especially saturated fat), calories, cholesterol, sodium and very rarely include fruits, vegetables, whole grains or lean proteins. Not to mention the serving sizes! I understand that many of you travel frequently or are strapped for time. However, eating healthy doesn’t just happen, you have to plan for it. Make sure to think through food choices before you make them and pack non-perishable goods such as whole grain crackers, granola bars, dry cereal, nuts, fruits, vegetables and trail mix for healthy snacks on the go.

When eating out, here are a few guidelines to follow. Although you may have heard many of these before, you may not be doing them. Make a commitment to start now and make a new habit.

  • Plan ahead but don’t skip meals. You can eat smaller, lighter meals to “save up” for a larger meal out but make sure not to entirely skip a meal. It will leave you ravenous for food and you will overeat.
  • Share your meal. This is a great way to save money…and calories! You can also enjoy a smaller portion of protein and grain and order a side salad to add volume.
  • Take half or more of your meal home. Even ask for it to be packed up before you begin eating. If it isn’t right in front of you, you will be less likely to eat it. Think about how good those leftovers will taste later!
  • Stop eating when you feel full. Remember the hunger scale and ALWAYS keep it in mind. It is so easy to keep eating when large portions are in front of you. You must make a conscious effort as an intuitive eater to stop eating when you start to feel full. Remember how horrible you feel leaving a restaurant overly stuffed.
  • Skip beverages, appetizers and desserts. Again, you save money and calories. Those extras can really add up. It may be appropriate to ask the waitress to just not bring chips or bread.
  • Order appetizers as entrees since they are usually smaller portions. However, beware that most appetizers are often fried.
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  • Ask for salad dressings, sauces and condiments on the side and use a minimal amount. Dipping your fork in the dressing first before taking the salad is a great technique. Many ethnic cuisines may serve entrees with heavy sauces. Just ask for them not to add it! When it is on the side, you control how much.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions or omissions for certain high calorie and high fat items. For example, fruit instead of fries, baked potato instead of mashed potatoes or salsa instead of salad dressing. Just make sure you smile and ask nicely. It should work!
  • Customize a meal. If you know they have salmon, veggies and brown rice pilaf but not all together as a meal on the menu, just ask them to piece it together for you. Or order a few side items to make a complete meal.
  • Order dry. Restaurants will brush butter or oil on EVERYTHING. To avoid this, order menu items “dry”. For example, pizza crust is usually brushed with oil before baking. Poultry or fish is usually brushed with oil or butter even before it is grilled. Bread for sandwiches is toasted with butter or oil. Steamed veggies have butter added to them after cooking. Ordering these items “dry” should prevent that.
  • In this case, ditch the skin. Potato skins (sweet or regular) usually are rubbed with bacon fat before being baked. To get around this one, just don’t eat the skin. Want another reason? Restaurants don’t usually wash and scrub potato skins.
  • Go for items that are steamed, grilled, poached, broiled, vegetarian or labeled light or lean. Look through the menu for items marked as “healthy” or ask your waiter how meals are prepared.
  • Avoid items that are fried, crispy, breaded, in cream or cheese sauces and meat with skin and bones. At times, the way a food is prepared has more impact on calorie and fat contact than the food option itself.
  • Don’t add salt! Trust me, it is already high enough in sodium.
  • Drink water or unsweetened iced tea. Alcoholic beverages and sodas can easily run you an extra 400 or more calories. Add lemon to your water and drink it through a straw…it makes it seem more fun!
  • Eat slowly and enjoy your meal. Eating out should be satisfying and enjoyable so don’t rush through it.
  • Beware of all-you-can eat buffets and don’t feel like you have to get your “money’s worth”. These can be problematic for some while others may like the freedom it gives them in taking the correct portions.
  • Eat out with people who are supportive. But if that isn’t possible, just remember that you are the one affected by your choices. So while peer pressure is alive and well, you should make decisions based on long-term goals, not what seems important or socially appropriate at the time.
  • Eat out less. Bottom line, we need to prepare more of our own food. Eating healthy doesn’t just happen, you have to plan for it. (1) Making a meal plan for the week, (2) grocery shopping to ensure you have all the necessary ingredients and (3) making meal preparation a priority can help you avoid the drive through.

Adapted by a blog post written by Emily Fonnesbeck

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