Are you one of nearly 58 percent of Americans who eat out at least once each week?
Despite efforts to prepare meals at home, many individuals and families have at least one busy day or night each week when they eat out at restaurants or pick-up a quick meal from the drive-in window. This is especially true during the month of August as children return to school and families’ schedules become busier.
Even if you do not eat an entire meal from a restaurant, you may make regular or occasional trips to your favorite coffee shop or bakery for a morning pick-me-up or afternoon snack.
Restaurant and take-out foods can be high in fat, sugar and sodium, while being low in fiber, vitamins and minerals. The large portions in many restaurants may also result in overeating.
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Portions may not seem large to us, but in the past 20 years restaurant foods including coffee, muffins, hamburgers and even salads have doubled and in some cases tripled.
Although eating out can be a real challenge for good health, there are some survival skills that Middle Georgians can use to make their restaurant experiences healthier.
First, choose your restaurant carefully. Find out what is on the menu before you go. Chain restaurants list the nutrition content of their menus on their websites, and some chain restaurants must now include the number of calories in foods on their menu.
Small, local restaurants will gladly fax or email you a menu ahead of time. If all else fails, call and ask whether the restaurant serves vegetables, salads, broiled and grilled items and whether they will prepare items without added salt or fat.
If a restaurant does have limited options, supplement the meal with food from home. Add a fruit for dessert or have some cut up vegetables or salad with the meal or for a snack later.
The second survival skill complements the first. Know what you want to order before you arrive. When we are overly hungry, we tend to opt for higher fat, higher sugar items. If you do not know what you want beforehand, you will be more likely to order that triple cheeseburger or loaded baked potato and to regret it later.
Third, have it your way. Even if the menu doesn’t list healthier items, do not be afraid to ask the server or other restaurant employee whether fried items can be broiled, baked or grilled. Inquire to see if the salad dressings and sauces can be served on the side or left off completely. Ask if a cooked vegetable or salad can replace the fries.
Both quick service and full table service restaurants offer fresh fruit and vegetable side options that can be substituted in place of less healthy sides. It never hurts to check, and many restaurants are happy to honor special requests in an effort to keep customers coming back.
Fourth, try not to go to the restaurant too hungry. When we are ravenously hungry, we may be less in tune with our bodies and tend to choose foods that are less nourishing. Curb your appetite about an hour before you go to the restaurant with a piece of fruit, a cup of yogurt or a glass of skim or low fat milk.
You will make better decisions when you order and you will be less likely to fill up on the bread and butter or chips and dip before the rest of the meal arrives.
Fifth, share a meal if the portions are large. Most restaurant meals are large enough to feed two people. Many restaurants allow customers to share. You can round out the meal with a salad or soup and even split a dessert if you do not overeat.
When you eat by yourself, ask for a doggie bag, and place half of your meal in the container before you start eating. You will enjoy your delicious meal twice and will save money in the process.