According to the National Restaurant Association and U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, Americans spent about 41% of their food dollars on meals prepared outside the home in the year 2015, compared to 19% in 1955. Twenty-nine percent of our meals, and 22% of our snacks, are purchased outside the home. We now spend more than $222 billion annually at restaurants, and over one-third of our calories are consumed outside the home (even higher for 18-39 year old men).
The result – a national obesity epidemic, fueled by super-sized restaurant portions that are loaded with calories, fat, saturated fat and salt. Good, reliable information about what’s being offered in restaurants is virtually nonexistent. What should you do? Follow this guide to dining out the healthy way!
Check out the menu before you sit down. Even if it’s not posted outside, ask to see the menu first. Some restaurants post their menu on their website, or will fax it to you so that you can review it first. It’s hard to leave once you’ve been seated.
Ask for explanations about vaguely worded or unfamiliar items. Don’t make assumptions about the preparation methods used for dishes you may be interested in ordering – ask the server for details.
Look for “light” or “healthy” selections and avoid items that say creamed, old-fashioned, battered, crusted, or topped.
Ask for substitutions that you want – don’t be shy about requesting changes. Remember, restaurants want to please you, and most will let you replace fries with a side salad, or have an item grilled rather than fried. Request egg whites rather than whole eggs, and get your dressings on the side (dip your fork into the dressing rather than pouring it over your salad).
Drink plenty of water. Start with a glass before you order. Drink at least two glasses during the course of your meal, even if you have another beverage. And skip the soda – wasted calories in the form of refined sugar!
Watch for hidden fats – they’re often found in salad dressings and red meats. Most restaurant portions are 20% higher in fat than home prepared meals!
When you order, ask the server to split the portion in two and bring you the second half in a take-home container with the bill. This really helps you with portion control, as you aren’t tempted to eat more than you really should. Check out the appetizer menu for additional, smaller portion options.
Skip the butter – just have the server remove it from the table. Try to choose a whole grain roll, and cut it into thirds. Eat the pieces one at a time, spacing them out (you may never get to the last piece). Avoiding the butter allows you to skip the saturated fat which is particularly harmful to your health. Instead, ask for olive oil, which is a much healthier fat, and dip lightly!
If you want dessert, choose one that is fruit-based and split it with a companion. Alternatively, ask for sorbet or fresh berries.
Eat out less often – you’ll save money, fat, calories and quite possibly, your health. Your wallet and waistline will say a heartfelt, “thank you.”