June 2020 How to Make Healthier Choices When Eating Out
By Chelsea Jones
On average, Americans eat four to five restaurant meals a week, or about 18 meals a month. No matter the frequency, dining out should be a fun, guilt-free experience. When eating out is a fairly common occurrence, it is important to be aware of the nutrition profile of restaurant meals.
When compared to home-cooked meals, restaurant dishes often serve much larger portions and contain more calories, sodium, saturated fat and added sugars. The good news: it is still possible to have a satisfying, healthy meal when eating out. Keep reading for tips and tricks for making healthier choices at restaurants.
Plan ahead so you can be intentional about your meal choice.
- Know before you go. Do some menu research beforehand to find healthy options. Many restaurants include their nutrition information on their website.
- If your restaurant meal is going to be light on fruits or vegetables, consider planning to have more of these earlier in the day.
- If you’re already very hungry before you leave, it can be helpful to have a snack beforehand to prevent getting overly hungry.
- If you’re planning to eat out several times in a week, plan to get a meal or two from a restaurant that highlights healthy choices.
- If you routinely meal plan for the week, it can be helpful to account for meals you will eat out so you can plan your home-cooked meals around this.
- If the restaurant is close by, consider planning for extra time to walk or bike there instead of driving.
Request Modifications to How the Meal is Being Prepared or Served
Request changes to the preparation method or serving style of your favorite restaurant meals as a way to reduce the calories, saturated fat, added sugar and sodium content.
- For options that are fried or breaded, you can request for your dish to be grilled, broiled or steamed.
- You can also request that your meal is prepared with “light” amounts of salt, oil, butter, cream, cheese or sauce.
- Sauces, dressings, and condiments can be hidden sources of fat, sugar, and sodium—these can be ordered on the side.
- “Creamy”, “glazed” and “smothered” are also code words that could warrant a request for “light sauce” or “sauce on the side”.
- Be mindful of sugary beverages including soda, sweet tea, lemonade, flavored drinks, and cocktails.
- Go veggie heavy! Swap out ingredients with vegetables and choose veggie side options, appetizers, and toppings.
Tips for Managing Large Portions
Restaurant portions are typically larger than the standard home-cooked meal, and often served on larger plates.
- In many cases a restaurant is willing to make a “half portion” of their popular dishes for a reduced price.
- Consider splitting a meal with your company.
- You can always take leftovers home, or box your anticipated leftovers prior to eating your meal.
- Slow down and savor the flavor of your meal to prevent overeating. It can be helpful to pace yourself with sips of water or setting your fork down between bites.
- Ask your server to limit the refill of chips, bread basket and sugary drinks.
- Order smaller sizes of high-calorie sides and drinks.
Making simple swaps and planning ahead are helpful for making healthier choices at restaurants. You can use your favorite restaurant menus as inspiration for meals you can make at home, but with a healthier twist! Check out our comparison of chain restaurant chicken parmesan vs. our homemade baked version here.
|Nutrition Info||Olive Garden Chicken Parmigiana with Spaghetti||Applebees Chicken Parmesan with Fettuccine||Dominos Chicken Parmesan Sandwich||Baked Chicken Parmesan with 1 cup Whole Wheat Spaghetti|
|Total Fat||52 g||59 g||30 g||18.5 g|
|Sat. Fat||14 g||18 g||14 g||5 g|
|Sodium||2980 mg||3000 mg||2160 mg||830 mg|
|Protein||63 g||81 g||48 g||45 g|
|Carbohydrates||86 g||136 g||72 g||57 g|
|Fiber||7 g||14 g||4 g||9 g|
|Sugars||16 g||18 g||18 g||6 g|
Get to know our author:
Jones is a senior majoring in Nutrition and Food Science- Dietetics and Nutrition Management Concentration. She is very interested in clinical nutrition, especially in hospital settings, and is also interested in working with patients with eating disorders. Fun Fact: Jones was able to volunteer abroad in Bali, Indonesia during the summer of 2018 teaching local children about various health and nutrition topics.
For additional resources to healthy eating, check out these programs from our registered dietitian nutritionists. Find delicious and healthy recipes on our Recipes page! More health tips are also available at the College of Health and Human Sciences Pinterest board. Lastly, don’t forget to sign up for the KRNC monthly newsletter!