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Carol Ann
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Do you REALLY Know What is on Your Plate? Tips on Eating Healthy While Dining Out

posted on9 December, 2010

According to the National Restaurant Association, Americans eat 24% of all meals in restaurants. Dining out is one of the great pleasures of life. You don’t have to do the preparation, the cooking, or the cleaning up. Someone is there to wait on you hand and foot to serve your every savory need. Currently, it is especially high season dining out time during the vacation summer months. Dining out is a special time to share with family, friends, and that special someone. However, if you are trying to maintain a healthy eating lifestyle, it is not so easy sometimes to control what and how much is on your plate. How cooks prepare your food is key in keeping with your diet. In addition, restaurant meal portions are out of control these days which makes it difficult to keep the amount of calories in check. Here are a few tips to eating healthy while dining out.

Planning
Do your homework on restaurants in your area that you know will have healthy choices. Many restaurants have websites with their menus listed, and if you are lucky, they will also have listed the nutritional information for their food. Many restaurants offer low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-sodium, and low-sugar items. Make a list of those restaurants that have a variety of choices that you know will meet your dietary needs. Then the next time, when someone out of the blue wants to go out to eat, you are armed with several suggestions. Having a list of restaurants will, in addition, take the pressure off those to make a decision on where to go.

Ordering Off the Menu
You are in control of what goes in your mouth. Many restaurants are very accommodating when it comes to a customer ordering how he/she wants the food to be prepared. Read the menu to see how the meals are prepared, and then make a decision on if you will need to order the food your way. Here are some quick tips on what and what not to order:
• Order grilled or steamed items. Avoid fried preparation of foods. Even baked food is pushing the edge unless you absolutely know the nutritional value of the food.
• Avoid terms like butter sauce, fried, crispy, creamed, in cream or cheese sauce, au gratin, escalloped, parmesan, hollandaise, marinated (in oil), stewed, basted, sautéed, stir-fried, cbottomerole, hash, prime, pot pie, pastry crust.
• Substitute a baked potato, salad, or soup for items like French fries, chips, and coleslaw.
• When ordering pasta, ask for red sauces and stay away from creamy or butter sauces.
• When ordering pizza, ask for thin crust with veggies. Limit to 2 slices.
• If you must have fatty sauces or gravy, order them on the side and dip your food in them to control the amount that you are eating.
• Limit your alcohol consumption when dining out. Depending on your weight, two glbottomes of wine should be your maximum.
• If you find yourself at a fast-food restaurant, avoid “super”, “extra value”, and “jumbo” anything. Keep the portions small. You can still order items that are grilled instead of breaded and fried. You can typically order a salad and a grilled chicken sandwich without the bread. Place your grilled chicken on the salad and boom…a healthy meal. If you just absolutely need a “Big Mac”, then cut back on your other meals that day and eat raw fruits and veggies.

Table Behavior
Once your food comes to the table, you need to be aware of how you are eating. Size up your meal before even digging in. If the portions are larger than normal, ask for a doggie bag immediately in which to place half your meal. This will eliminate any unnecessary “picking” of your meal once you are full. Before dressing up your food, taste it first to see if you even need to do anything to it. Then, if you feel that you need to salt or season your food, do slow lightly. Take small bites and chew your food completely. Eat slowly, enjoy your food, and enjoy the conversation. Take plenty sips of water while eating to help fill your stomach. When you are full ask the waiter to remove your plate immediately and place the left-overs (if there are any) in a doggie bag.

Quick List of Healthy Foods at Restaurants
Breakfast Meals: First Watch, Village Inn, Cracker Barrel, and Denny’s are examples of restaurants that allow you to substitute egg beaters or egg whites for whole eggs. They also have healthy items on the menu.
• Fresh fruit or small glbottom of citrus juice
• Whole grain bread, bagel or English muffin with jelly or honey
• Whole grain cereal with lowfat (1%) or fat free milk
• Hot cereal (oatmeal, cream of wheat, grits, hominy) with nonfat milk topped with fruit
• Omelet made with egg whites or egg substitute
• Multigrain pancakes
• Nonfat yogurt (try adding cereal or fresh fruit)

Lunch Meals: The best places to go for lunch are the ones that allow you to build your own sandwich. You are in complete control of what goes on your sandwich. Subway is the best example. However, although they advertise eating fresh and low fat, avoid the Chicken and Bacon Ranch, Italian BMT, Meatball Marinara, Spicy Italian, Steak and Cheese, and Subway Melt. These sandwiches range from 12 to 30 grams of fat per 6 inch sub.

Dinner Meals
Appetizers: Sometimes it is best to avoid the appetizer to avoid extra calories. However, if having an appetizer, here are some good choices.
• Shrimp cocktail (limit cocktail sauce - it’s high in sodium)
• Melons or fresh fruit
• Fruit juice
• Fruit cup
• Bean or broth-based soups
• Salad with reduced fat dressing (or add lemon juice or vinegar)
• Grilled vegetables
• Raw vegetables with lowfat dip or salsa
• Pita bread with hummus or low-fat black bean dip

Main Dish: Choose items such as lean cuts of meats with lots of veggies. Many restaurants have “guiltless” menus such as Chili’s Grill and Bar. Chili’s has several dishes such as guiltless salmon, black bean burger, chicken platter, and chicken sandwich. All are served with healthy side dishes such as steamed veggies, and black beans. These dishes add up to only 8 to 14 grams of fat for the entire entrée. Other great choices are:
• Poultry, fish, and shellfish are healthy choices
• Vegetarian dishes with pasta, rice and other grains, beans, and lowfat sauces
• Pasta with red sauce or with vegetables (primavera)
• Look for terms like grilled, broiled, steamed, or poached
• Ask for sauces and dressings on the side
• Limit the amount of butter, margarine, and salt you use at the table.

Dessert: If you were “good” during your meal, why not splurge a little bit. There are plenty of healthy options when craving a little sweet.
• Tiny piece of dark chocolate
• Fresh fruit
• Lowfat or nonfat frozen yogurt
• Sherbet or fruit sorbet (these are usually fat-free and cholesterol-free)
• Angel food cake
• Jello
• Share a dessert instead of eating the whole thing.
• If drinking coffee as a dessert, ask for skim milk (instead of cream or half-n-half).

Resource: National Institutes of Health

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