Eating out should be delicious and enjoyable without harming your health. Restaurant meals can have large portions that are high in calories and fat. One entrée sometimes has an entire day’s worth of fat and calories without counting the appetizer, drinks and dessert that may accompany the entrée.
Portions served in restaurants have been growing larger during the last 30 years. Pasta servings are often at least five times the recommended amount (1/2 cup) and some baked goods have tripled in size.
For example, a commercial muffin can have up to 750 calories while a homemade muffin can be as low as 200 calories. With a little preparation and some awareness, it can be easy to enjoy a delicious meal and become a savvy consumer.
Prepare before you go
- Spoil your appetite. Have a snack or mini-meal before leaving like a bowl of soup or a piece of toast with low-fat cheese. Any snack from home will have less fat and calories than the typical restaurant appetizer.
- Know where you are going. Look up the restaurant online to peruse the menu early. Think about what you will order before you get there.
- Limit yourself to one slice or less of bread from the basket.
- Limit your alcohol intake. Alcohol can weaken your resolve for eating in moderation and is dehydrating.
- When having wine with dinner, choose lower-fat entrees. The body uses alcohol for energy first; then carbohydrates, protein and fat so when you eat and drink, the excess calories are often stored as fat.
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and help with satiety.
Placing your order
- Be aware of portion sizes. Restaurants serve up to seven times a normal portion size for a meal.
- Plan on sharing a meal or taking some of it home. You can even request to have half of it wrapped up ahead of time. Researchers have found that people eat more if more food is in front of them.
- Appetizers can be a more realistic portion size. Order one as your meal with a side salad or two appetizers with one being vegetable-based.
- Ask your server. Find out the preparation method, the sauce or the sides. Don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions.
- Order sauces and dressings on the side so you can control how much you eat.
- Order plenty of vegetables. They are packed with nutrients and low in calories, but watch the preparation so they are not soaked in butter or oil.
- Sip some broth-based soup. Soup can help you feel full.
Finishing your meal
- Listen to your hunger cues. Eat until you are pleasantly full, but not stuffed and take the leftovers home.
- Order a dessert for the table instead of for yourself. Often a couple bites are enough to satisfy.