Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dining Out Well

Americans love to eat out. When I was growing up, we ate out less than once a month, and most of the time when we did, it was due to traveling. Today, according to, the National Restaurant Association reports that "an average of one out of five meals consumed by Americans — 4.2 meals per week — is prepared in a commercial setting.” Is it possible to eat well, that is – healthy, while dining out? Yes!

There are several basic, common sense strategies you can use to stay well while eating out. First, don’t see it as a treat or special event, because as the data show, we’re don’t reserve eating in restaurants for special occasions. If you only dine out once a month or less, splurging when you do is not nearly the problem it would be if you ate out every other day, as most of us do on average. Try to order the kinds of healthy foods you would prepare yourself, in the quantities you would eat at home.

Pay attention to the extras: alcohol, appetizers, the bread basket, the bowl of chips, sauces, and desserts. How of many these do you typically include in your meals at home? The calories and fat from these add-ons really add up!

Avoid buffets where the quantities and calories are virtually unlimited. If you do find yourself faced with a salad bar or buffet, be sure to walk the entire length first. Plan out what you don’t want to miss and what you can easily skip that is common but “costly,” such as cheese cubes, crackers/breads, fatty meats, and fried foods. Fill at least half of your plate with vegetables (here common items are okay) and take just a tablespoon-sized taste of the salads and hot dishes, remembering that many small portions will add up.

Finally, whether you’re eating at home or out, I recommend the approach my father’s doctor suggested after his bypass surgery when Dad was put on a low fat diet. Once a week he could have one treat not found on the diet, such as an ice cream cone, and once a month he could have special meal where he could eat anything he wanted. Knowing he had this freedom to look forward to enabled him to stay on course the rest of the time. He really savored those special foods and meals, too.

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