March 15, 2016 (COUNTY NEWS SERVICE) We love eating out.
The National Restaurant Association estimates Americans eat one out of every four meals away from home.
For nutritionists and health experts, this habit can be a concern because restaurants usually offer bigger portions than we eat at home.
However, the County Health and Human Services Agency’s nutritionist, Naomi Billups, says restaurants don’t deserve all the blame for our unhealthy eating habits. March is National Nutrition Month and she offers some tips on how to stick to a healthy eating plan while enjoying a meal out.
Healthy foods can be found at most dining establishments; you just have to look. Many restaurants have their menus online, so you can check it out before you go in and are tempted by less nutritious menu options. By doing this, you can choose the restaurant with the healthiest options and order the best meal. Of course, you can ask for substitutions, if available and necessary.
Escape “portion distortion”
Restaurants generally offer multiple “servings” or “portions” so we begin to think these are normal amounts. Check this out – one serving of pasta is only a half of a cup. Try and measure that out. You will be surprised! Restaurants portions can be up to eight times as much. You can split a dish or plan to take away half for the next day’s lunch.
Design your plate
Eating healthy is not about what you can’t eat. Billups says you should think about adding healthy items to your meal. Try to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Whole-grain breads, pastas, and sides are a great option. So are healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocados, seeds and nuts. You should always go for leaner proteins, such as turkey, chicken, or fish or choose a plant-based entree. Ask for and choose sustainable and/or locally grown products – usually what is good for the earth is good for you.
Go whole grain
Whole grains have fiber unlike their processed counterparts. Fiber helps make you feel full without extra calories and is healthy for you. When ordering a sandwich, ask for whole grain bread. Order brown rice instead of white or start off with half and half.
Rethink your drink
Drinking calories adds up really quickly and many people do not realize how fast and how much. Stick to quenching your thirst with water or soda water. Add a little lemon or lime for flavor. This also not only helps you maintain a healthy weight but lightens up your bill. Unsweetened tea is another good option.
Don’t go out hungry
Sure, you’ve been looking forward to going out to eat, but if you’re starving by the time you get to the restaurant, chances are you’ll end up scarfing down the chips or bread before your main dish arrives. Billups says you should have a small snack at home to stave off hunger. Or order a broth-based soup or small salad, with a light dressing or the dressing on the side, while you’re waiting.
Watch for cooking clues
It’s important to look at the menu for clues as to how your dish is prepared. “Grilled,” “broiled,” or “steamed” are all good options because the food is cooked with less fat. “Fried,” “breaded,” and “creamy” all sound delicious—and probably are—but they are likely to be loaded with calories…and fat. Ask for low-fat dressings, and ask for dressings on the side. Once in a while, small amounts of butter and mayo are OK.
Request to replace
Remember that your server is your friend. Ask your server to help you make your meal healthier. You can request a salad instead of fries or chips. Your server can also make the bread basket or chips disappear. It’s also OK to ask the server if you can order “off-menu” and request that the chef prepare a special vegetarian dish or, maybe, grilled chicken and steamed vegetables. Many restaurants would be more than happy to show off their healthy options.
Eating out could be just as healthy as eating at home, Billups says. All you have to do is plan and be ready to make savvy substitutions for a savory and nutritious meal as the ones you cook at home.