By Dianna Yanchis BSc (Nutrition)
Reviewed by Andrea Miller MHSc, RD
Eating out at restaurants or fast-food joints is fun, sociable and convenient. However, dining out can lead to overeating and poor food choices as restaurant foods are often prepared with extra fat, sugar, sodium and calories. Here are some tips to make heart smart choices and stay on track with health eating while dining out!
- Be aware of how the food is prepared. Choose food items that have been steamed, grilled, baked or roasted. These cooking methods contain less fat and calories than foods that are fried, deep-fried, breaded, crispy, or crunchy.
- Make the healthy swap. Choose steamed vegetables or garden salad as a choice of side, instead of fries. Vegetables are an excellent source of vitamins and fiber. Limit the extras such as cheese, bacon or mayonnaise.
- Skip sugar-sweetened beverages. Water is the best way to stay hydrated. Add lemon or lime wedges to your water for extra flavour. Juice and pop are very high in sugar and can add extra calories. As for alcoholic beverages, try a wine spritzer, or light beer and limit portions to one or two drinks.
- Avoid heavy creams, sauces, dressings and extra condiments. Try asking for sauces/dressings on the side. These can quickly add extra fat and calories to your meal. Add just enough for flavor.
- Watch portion sizes. Most restaurants serve portions that are much larger than you would normally consume at home. Avoiding super-sizing, sharing an entrée with a friend or taking half home is a great way to control portion sizes. The same goes for desserts.
- Look for whole grains: Choose quinoa, brown rice, barley, and whole grain buns/wraps/pasta, whenever available.
- Check the menu ahead of time. Most restaurants post their menus on their Websites. They may even provide nutritional information, which can help you to make healthy choices. Look for items that are higher in protein, fiber and vitamins and lower in sugar, fat, sodium and calories.
- Learn to navigate any menu like a nutrition pro! A good rule of thumb is to make protein the basis of your meal. Once making the protein choice, be sure to include a side of vegetables.
- Avoid sides/combos at fast food restaurants. Just order the entrée as most of the extra calories in typical fast food come from the nearly unlimited soda refills and default order of fries. Choose salad or a baked potato, whenever available.
By keeping these tips in mind, eating healthy while eating out can be easy and enjoyable! Remember, eating out is a treat and indulging every once in a while is acceptable. Try applying the 80-20 rule: focus your choices on nutrition 80 percent of the time and use the other 20 percent to enjoy a treat. Healthy choices can be found on nearly every menu, all it takes is a little planning.