Going out to eat has become a way of life. I certainly look forward to dining out with family and friends. After all, everyone needs an occasional pampered evening that’s hassle free, with nothing to prepare or wash. You can make this indulgence a healthy one as long as you control your nutritional intake by following a few important guidelines.
A Habit of Health – Avoid fast foods
When I talk about dining out, I’m not talking about fast food restaurants. Fast foods make it nearly impossible to maintain a healthy weight. In fact, they’re the masters of calorie creep, as anyone who’s seen the movie SuperSize Me knows.
The bland, grey-looking stuff served in fast food restaurants—made palatable with the help of some fragrance company off the New Jersey Turnpike, no doubt—gives immediate gratification, loaded as it is with salt, high-fructose corn syrup, and animal fats, but it lacks much nutritional value. On top of which, that red and yellow color scheme is designed to attract you like a hummingbird to a feeder by stimulating your hunger and creating a stress response that can have a negative effect on your immune system.
So if you never enter another red and yellow establishment again, you’ll have added another Habit of Health! If you find yourself having no other choice, then get a salad with grilled chicken on it and low calorie dressing.
Watch for Pitfalls
Look at dining out from the restaurant’s point of view. Restaurants are in the business of making money and keeping their customers happy (so they can make more money). They want you to come back and bring all your friends. The truth of the matter is this... fat, salt, and sugar sell better than the healthy stuff so be prepared to be sold unhealthy food.
More important, they have a secret weapon. What’s the first thing that happens when you enter a restaurant? They ask you if you want a cocktail. And why not? After a busy day, a cocktail or glass of wine may be your perfect way to relax. But after just one drink, the inhibitory neurons in our brain start to shut off. We begin to lose our ability to remember those primary and secondary choices we made so carefully. And with that, we lose our reason to avoid that 2,400-calorie Bloomin’ Onion. Not to mention that alcohol itself, with seven calories per gram, has almost double the calories of sugar and absolutely no nutritive value. Drink sparkling water with lime or a splash of cranberry instead of a cocktail while you wait for your meal.
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have anything at all to drink. In fact, a glass of red wine with your meal can actually help you live longer. But here’s the key: order your food first!
If you know where you will be eating out, call in advance and ask the restaurant to either fax or e-mail their menu to you. You may also find their menu on the internet. Decide in advance what you will choose and stick to it. Also, choose restaurants that have healthy dishes. In other words, stay away from the pizzerias and all you can eat buffets!
If your dinner reservation will take you past a three hour time period without eating, then have a 100 calorie snack (or meal replacement) before you go out. This will keep your appétit down while you wait for your table and then for your food to arrive.
When seated, ask for the bread or chips to be removed from the table or placed out of reach. Save your calories for more nutritious foods.
Try this tip!
Check out menu selections on the restaurant’s Web site before you go to avoid a potentially unhealthy environment or to preselect a healthy choice.
Choose Healthy Cooking Methods
Scampi style, au gratin, broiled—what does it all mean in terms of calories? Here are some quick tips to help you sort the good from the bad.
Bear in mind that this is just a rough guide. There’s no guarantee that items prepared in the preferred methods are really low in fat, since fats are often added in the cooking process (for example, grilled items may be brushed with oil, poached items may cooked in buttery liquid, baked items often contain oil or cheese, and marinara sauces often start with a base of oil). And if the cut of meat, fish, or poultry you choose is high in fat to begin with, it will likely still be high in fat after cooking, even using healthy cooking methods.
Stay away from cream sauces and soups, butter, oil, au gratin, breaded, Alfredo sauce, gravy and anything battered or fried. Blackened entrees are usually dipped in butter or oil, covered with spices and then pan fried.
Don’t be afraid to take charge of your meal. Choose only lean cuts of meat such as loin and flank. If having chicken, white meat contains less fat. Ask for meat, fish or poultry to be prepared with minimal oil and butter or prepared “light”. Have the chef trim all excess fat before cooking and remove skin off poultry before eating. Request that vegetables be steamed with no added sugar or butter. The best preparation for your meal is baked, broiled, grilled, poached or steamed. And of course fresh is best!
Restaurant servings have gotten out of control. An occasional treat is fine, but if you eat out often you need to develop an overall strategy for portion and calorie control. Here are a few tips.
- Visualize the divisions on the nine-inch-plate.
- Order two appetizers instead of an entrée, such as soup and a dinner salad, or shrimp cocktail.
- Split a meal with your dining companion.
- Don’t rely on the chef or waiter to serve you the correct amount of food. Surveys show that people generally eat everything that’s put in front of them—whether they wanted it or not.
- Ask for a leftovers container right when you place your order. When your meal comes, eyeball your proper portion right away and put the rest into the box to take home.
So, In Review….
- Watch your portions and visualize the 9 inch plate
- Make sure that all sauces are “on the side”
- Don’t trust Salad dressings. Even vinaigrettes can be full of sugar! Ask for vinegar and oil on the side, and make your own.
- Adding a squeeze of lemon can lower the glycemic index
- Make sure that vegetables have not been soaked in sugar and do not have excess butter on them
- Check out the menu ahead of time and have a plan
- Drink a glass of water or have a portion controlled meal replacement before you go so that you are not starving while waiting on your meal
- Ask for no bread to be on table
- Be in charge of your dining out experience, have fun, and don’t let the establishments ruin your success!