Cooking and eating family meals at home is the best way to eat smart. Home cooked meals are generally healthier and cheaper. But eating out is also a large part of our eating habits. About half of the average American’s food dollars are spent on food away from home. About ¼ of our calories come from food away from home, but the nutritional quality of these meals are worse than food eaten at home. Eating out has a place in a healthy diet, but you have to pay a little more attention to make smart choices. Use these tips to eat smart when eating out.
Know Before You Go
Most restaurants have their menus and even possibly nutrition information posted online.
- Browse the menus of different restaurants to help you find the one that offers the smartest options.
- You can even decide ahead of time what meal you will order. Choosing ahead of time can help you eat fewer calories and make a smarter choice without the temptation of being hungry and eying fellow diners’ meals.
Make it MyPlate
Most restaurant meals don’t look like MyPlate. They usually don’t have enough fruits, veggies, or whole grains and too much protein foods, refined grains, and full-fat dairy.
- Ask if there are whole grain substitutes for rice, bread, buns, or pasta.
- Skip deep-fried sides like french fries and substitute a salad with low-fat dressing or steamed broccoli.
- Keep sauces, dips, dressings, and sour cream on the side and add just a small portion for flavor without the extra calories and fat.
Watch Your Portions
Most restaurant portions are over-sized.
- Ask for a to-go container to save some of your dish for another meal.
- Ask if they offer lunch or child-sized portions of your dish for a smaller and lower calorie meal.
- Split a meal with your friend or family member.
Use Your Calorie Budget Wisely
Your body only needs a certain amount of calories each day. Eating too many too often can lead to weight gain.
- Eat lighter at your other meals on days when you’ll be eating out. Or burn extra calories with a longer or faster-paced workout on days you eat out.
- Focus on the entree and go low-calorie on drinks, desserts, or appetizers. Order water, unsweetened tea, or coffee instead of sugary or alcoholic drinks. Skip dessert unless it’s a special occasion. A lot of appetizers are deep fried and can have just as many calories as your entree. Ask for a house salad to come first if you’re too hungry to wait for your entree.
Eating at home is better for eating smart, but sometimes you want the convenience of someone else taking care of the cooking and clean-up or it’s a special occasion to celebrate. Practicing moderation helps make room in your diet for the occasional treat or more indulgent meal when you’re eating like MyPlate most of the time. What are some of your favorite restaurant meals? How could you tweak your order to make it a little healthier? We’d love to hear your thoughts!