How To Eat Healthy When Dining Out

by | Mar 18, 2022 | Food, Weight Loss | 0 comments

Eating out is a reality in today’s world and represents about 40% of the calories consumed in America. Although frequent restaurant dining can create obstacles when trying to improve blood sugars and manage your weight, it is possible to eat out and still reach your health goals. Knowledge is power, and the key is to learn strategies and new habits that will allow you to navigate all types of restaurants.

One of the reasons why going to restaurants can hijack healthy eating goals is because of portion sizes. The average restaurant meal serves up two to four times more than the recommended quantity for an average adult. The extra food contains approximately 60% more calories than a meal cooked at home. The one exception, unfortunately, is vegetables, which tend to have smaller serving sizes than what’s recommended.

But if you take the following steps, you can make dining out an enjoyable experience knowing you’ve stuck to healthy meal choices.

Avoid portion distortion.

  • Order the lunch-size portion or split an entrée with a dining partner. Order an extra salad and you will have more than enough for both to eat.
  • If you are not splitting the meal, ask for a carry out container right away when the food is brought to the table. Place one-half of the entrée into the container and take it home for lunch the next day.
  • Estimate the carbohydrate content of the meal and compare it to your carbohydrate goal. Try to eat only the correct portion.

Restaurant meals contain hidden salt and fats that can make the meal less heart healthy. Keep your diet and calories in check.

  • Order foods baked, broiled, or grilled and avoid fried foods to decrease both fat and sodium intake.
  • Avoid gravy and cream sauces. Instead, choose marinara sauces. Also, keep an eye on various dips served with entrées as they are often high in sodium and may contain lots of fat.
  • Watch portions of sour cream, butter, and salad dressings. These fats are packed with calories and make weight management difficult if you exceed the recommended amounts. Order your salad with dressing “on the side” and then fork dip your salad into the dressing.

Consider other roadblocks to healthy restaurant dining.

The average restaurant meal brings approximately 60% more calories than a meal cooked at home, with serving sizes two to four times the recommendation for an average adult

  • Extra calories from alcohol: Limit alcohol to one 4-ounce serving of wine, a light beer, or 1 ½ ounces of hard liquor. Also, be sure to discuss alcohol use with your physician.
  • Breadbasket: Keep in mind items in a breadbasket count as carbohydrate foods and will affect your blood sugar. If the breadbasket is a problem for you, ask the server not to bring it to the table, thereby eliminating temptation. Otherwise, make sure to calculate the carbohydrate from your bread into the total for the meal.
  • Dessert: Sharing a dessert around the table will allow everyone to have a bite without adding too many excess calories.
  • Buffets: Before dishing anything onto your plate, take a walk around the buffet to see what choices are available. Then make a plan for what you will eat. Keep your carbohydrate and calorie goals for the meal in mind and look for fruits and vegetables

Another great tool is to learn about the healthy food options at your favorite restaurants before leaving home. Visit their websites to look up the calorie, fat, and carbohydrate contents. This can be a real eye-opener, especially for people just starting out on a weight-loss program because restaurant foods tend to be much higher in calories than expected. Make a list of sample meals that would match your carbohydrate and caloric goal.

Tips to enjoy your favorites menu selections

Pizza: Choose 1-2 slices of a thin crust veggie pizza and add a large vegetable salad with light dressing on the side.

Mexican: Eat half of the enchilada and half of the rice and beans and take the rest home. Fajitas are a good choice—each tortilla = 15 grams of carbohydrate. Limit chips to one handful, and don’t forget that alcoholic beverages are high in calories.

Italian: Limit pasta to a 1 cup serving, include a lean protein, such as chicken breast, and add a large salad or vegetables. If you reach for the breadbasket, the pasta serving will need to be even smaller.

Chinese: Look for steamed chicken, or shrimp instead of fried or crispy. Ask for double vegetables and limit rice to a 1 cup serving. Also, substitute brown rice for white rice. Many restaurants offer this option.

Fast food: A kid’s meal contains the portion size that will match your carbohydrate goal for the meal. Don’t forget that dips and sauces count into your meal plan. Add a side salad with light dressing.

Eat out, eat smart!

Mealtime Mishaps

Whether dining out or eating in, it can be all too easy to slip up with your healthy meal planning, especially when it’s still new to you. If it happens, you run the risk of going over your calorie count, which makes reaching weight-loss goals that much more difficult.

Don’t get down on yourself. Rather, get smart. Here are some common diet traps people fall into and ways to correct them to get back on track.

  • Portion overload When facing your favorite foods, it’s easy to pile up your plate or go back for seconds, but that will take you over your daily calorie goal. It’s important to stick to appropriate portion sizes (remember, deck of cards). Also, keep in mind the balanced-plate ratios: ½ non-starchy vegetables, ¼ lean protein, and ¼ carbohydrates. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with having leftovers—it speeds up meal planning for the next day!
  • Losing count of calories If you do not count how many calories you consume throughout the day, you have no idea if you are falling short or going over your goal. To lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you take in, which means you have to be aware of the numbers, and this goes for every meal and snack. Food logs and calorie-counting apps or websites are great aids while you’re getting to know foods’ calorie content.
  • Drinking up Even if you are diligent about adding up the calories on your plate, if you don’t account for beverages, then it’s still easy to go over your daily limit. From sodas to sports drinks to alcohol, sweetened coffees, and fruit juices, drinks can vary in calories. Be sure to count them.
  • Super snacking Having a healthy snack a few hours after a meal is a great way to control your blood sugar; however, if you snack too frequently or have too big of a portion, then you’re upping your total calories. To keep your snacking in line with your weight-management objectives, plan them out, both in food choices and portion sizes.

And, don’t forget your weekly weigh-in!!


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