Mills-Peninsula Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

Eating Out, the Healthy Way

Posted on Nov 26, 2013 in Nutrition

Young couple eating at a restaurant.

Did you know many of Americans spend half their food dollars eating out? According to the United States Healthful Food Council, the average American adult buys a meal or snack from a restaurant 5.8 times a week, and more than 30 percent of children eat fast food on any given day. Yet there’s a downside to all this eating out: Numerous studies show that people consume significantly more calories when dining out than eating at home.

But that doesn’t mean you should never go to restaurants. “The whole point of dining out is to have an enjoyable experience,” Sashi Amara, M.D., a Mills-Peninsula internal medicine physician, says. “With some advance planning, smart decision making and portion size control, you can still enjoy restaurants but do so in a healthy way.”

The first step to making healthy choices at restaurants: Make a game plan in advance and stick with it, Dr. Amara recommends. For example, if you know you’re eating out for dinner, focus on making healthy choices for your other meals that day.

Once at the restaurant, follow these tips from Dr. Amara:

Choose drinks wisely. Calories from drinks add up quickly. Choose water, unsweetened tea or sparkling water with a slice of lemon or lime. And watch your alcohol consumption. Wine has fewer calories than beer; beer contains fewer calories than mixed drinks.

Don’t binge on bread. Make a decision upfront about how many pieces of bread you’ll eat so you won’t mindlessly consume extra calories.

Ask how your food will be prepared. Choose fresh fish or lean meats that are grilled, steamed, baked or roasted rather than fried dishes. Check if a dish is prepared with olive oil rather than butter and avoid creamy sauces.

Order dishes loaded with vegetables. Select salads and vegetable dishes prepared without heavy sauces or deep-frying.

Halve your portion size. Restaurants often serve portions much larger than nutritionists recommend. To avoid overeating, don’t be tempted to “clean your plate.” Order several small plates instead of one large meal. If you do order an entrée, ask for a to-go box when it’s served and save half of your portion for another meal.

Make dessert a special order. Indulge in desserts only occasionally, not every time you go out. And when you do, pick fresh fruit, sorbets, sherbets, meringues and plain cakes with fruit instead of rich, creamy or deep-fried desserts.