Northwest Health Winter 2012


Eat Well When You Eat Out

A little planning can help you avoid diet sabotage at restaurants.

Go to: Northwest Health Index

One recent survey of dining behavior found that Americans eat five meals a week in restaurants. Some of those meals are served up at fast food restaurants that often shoulder blame for our nation's obesity epidemic and the accompanying increase in chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

But even sit-down restaurant meals can be weighted with excess calories and sodium. Which leads to the question: Is it possible to eat at a restaurant without overindulging?

Terri Fox, RD, believes that it is. A nutritionist at Group Health Medical Centers Olympia clinic, Fox says that it comes down to taking control of your environment. And that involves planning ahead. Here are her tips for eating healthy when eating out.

Make a reservation. Without a reservation, you may wind up waiting for a table. That can lead to a couple of things: Heading to the bar where you'll be tempted to order a calorie-laden drink or two; and getting increasingly hungry, which makes it more likely that you'll order more than you really want and overeat when your meal finally arrives.

Preview the menu. Many restaurants post their menus online. The websites of national chains, like Olive Garden and Applebee's, also include calorie counts and nutritional information. It's easier to make a wise menu choice when all the information is in front of you.

Order one dish at a time. If you order and eat one part of the meal at a time, you may decide that one or two courses — perhaps an appetizer and salad — fill you up and satisfy you.

Set limits for yourself. Decide ahead of time how much you'll eat, and what you won't eat. Many restaurant meals are huge. Plan to take half of your main dish home. Decide that you won't eat the bread that arrives with your water. If you know you'll want dessert, cut back on something else during the day to balance out those extra calories. "Try to eat the same amount you would at home. Don't join the 'clean plate club,'" advises Fox.

Make friends with the waiter. Being on good terms with the waiter may help if you ask for a substitution. "I have a friend who tells the waiter, 'I'm eating for one, but I'll tip for two if you do this for me,'" says Fox.

"The biggest thing is thinking ahead," she says. "If you eat spur of the moment, you're less likely to make smart choices."

Navigating a Menu

The following tips can help you eat healthier when dining out.

  • Ask for sauces or dressing on the side — they often have an excess of salt and fat.
  • Ask to substitute vegetables for french fries.
  • Use moderation when you choose soups, which often have a lot of sodium.
  • Order grilled fish and meats instead of fried.
  • Go easy on beverages which often pack a lot of calories, and skip the "whip."
  • Order dishes with a red sauce rather than a cream sauce.
  • If you order a vegetarian dish, avoid those with lots of cheese and oils.
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