Tips to Eating Healthier at Restaurants

Deanne Stein Health Guide
  • I feel like the biggest pig. It's vacation season, and I've just completed one of several vacations planned this summer. I love vacation, but the constant eating is always part of the deal. I don't eat this much at home, so I'm not sure why I always stuff myself on vacation. The cost of eating out alone make me want to throw up!

    I love to eat, that's the problem. So when I'm away from home, it's hard to control myself. I'm so healthy and good at home, that I guess I see vacation as a time to let loose and eat a lot of junk. But, not all of it is junk food. We ate out at some really nice restaurants and in Myrtle Beach, where I just visited, we ate at one of those great seafood buffets. Good food, but some of it is fried and probably all of it prepared in butter or worse. I don't even want to know how many calories and fat I took in on that one meal alone. Now that I'm on the road back home, I'm already getting back into my healthy frame of mind. No sausage at breakfast, and I even took the clump of butter off my grits. Then I realized, I can eat out, I just have to be smart about it.

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    The occasional buffet on vacation is okay; I'm not going to beat myself up over it considering I never eat at buffets at home. But staying away from buffets is one way to manage what you eat. Once in a while, go for it.  But don't eat at buffets regularly; you can't manage your portions and will tend to overeat.
    Once you get to a restaurant, nutritionists say stay away from fried foods and order from the light menu, if they have one. Also, "on the side" is a very big deal to me. I order everything on the side, especially salad dressings. But also do gravies, butter, sour cream, sauces, etc. all "on the side." That way, you can control how much you eat. The restaurant's idea of a single serving is usually double what I think is right for me. You can also ask for smaller portions, or lunch-size salads and entrees. I also tend to share an entree with someone. It's less costly and is usually plenty of food for two people.  Another trick, if they don't have lunch portions, is to eat half of your meal and take the rest home and eat it for lunch the next day. I do that a lot.
    If there is no light menu, ask your server what the food is cooked in. The most desirable oils are monounsaturated oils like olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil. Polyunsaturated oils are good too. Those include soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil.  Remember that foods served fried, au gratin, crispy, scalloped, pan-fried, buttered, creamed or stuffed are high in fat and calories. Instead, look for steamed, broiled, baked, grilled, poached or roasted foods. Entrees that feature seafood, chicken or lean meat are the healthiest. Also substitute, if possible, healthy foods for not-so-healthy foods.  For instance, get the vegetables or baked potato, instead of the french fries.
    Now just because you head to the salad bar, doesn't mean your being healthy. Stick with the fresh greens, raw vegetables and low-fat dressings. If you are like me and don't care for the low-fat dressings, get the real deal, but use it very sparingly. You'd be surprised at how much fat and calories are in just a little bit of dressing. Avoid cheeses, marinated salads, pasta salads and fruit salads with whipped cream.


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    Desserts are my favorite, but choose carefully. You don't want to eat a really healthy meal and then blow it at the end with a fattening dessert. Fresh fruit is a good choice.  Sherbet, gelatin and angel food cake are good alternatives, too.
    These are just some options to think about next time you go out to eat, especially for the person who eats out several times a week. If you don't eat out very often, then there's nothing wrong with treating yourself to somone bad once in a while. And I know this is a lot to remember, but just do a little at a time. For example, your next time out, opt for no appetizer. Then, next time, go for healthy entrees and so on. Believe it or not, eating these healthier options will not make your eating out experience any less pleasurable. You might be surprised at how much better you feel afterward, both physically and mentally!


    Check out more tips on how to eat out healthy:

    Summer Food Portion Size Quiz

    Salad Bar Science

    Eat Healthy at Chinese, Mexican and Italian Restaurants

    Health Tip: Eat Healthy When You Eat Out

Published On: June 13, 2008