By Kelsey Casselbury 2017-01-05 06:11:25
EATING OUT—WHAT A TREAT, ISN’T IT? No prep work, no complaints from fussy family members and, perhaps best of all, no clean-up! In fact, the convenience and indulgence of eating out just might lead one to do it a little too frequently—on average, Americans eat meals outside the home approximately five times a week, reports the National Restaurant Association. Wow! However, if you’re trying to lose weight—or maintain the weight you’re at—eating out can be a tricky culinary maze to navigate. Each meal you eat away from home adds roughly 135 calories to your daily count, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That may not sound like very much, but if you multiply those calories across five occasions each week, you could be risking a 10-pound weight gain in the period of a single year. And, of course, that 135 estimate is a nationwide average—many restaurant meals will be much, much higher than what you would consume at home. While restaurant meals can be a gastronomic trap for those on a diet, they are not completely off limits, either. The key is to be mindful in your choices, minimizing the “indulgence” factor in favor of the other benefits of eating out, such as convenience and social engagements. This article offers a few tactics for decreasing the calorie count, as well as the saturated fat and sugar content, of those meals. It is possible to enjoy a meal outside of your own kitchen without packing on the pounds. BY THE BOOK In August 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized the rule on menu labeling, as required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This means that all restaurants and retail food establishments that have 20 or more locations must include calorie counts on their menus. Many quick-service, multi-unit restaurants had already implemented this requirement. Some single-site restaurants have begun voluntarily publicizing calorie counts—although you shouldn’t expect it from any but the big chains. When you first encounter these calorie counts, it’s really kind of a bummer. You likely won’t be surprised to learn that your favorite dish packs nearly 1,000 calories, but it’s probably not something you actually wanted to know. Still, if you’re watching your weight, you should take advantage of this requirement to help you avoid temptation and make a healthier choice. Planning ahead is essential. Visit the restaurant’s website before you arrive. Review the choices, review the nutritionals and make your decision. Then, when you arrive at the establishment and are seated, don’t even open the menu—stick to the healthy choice you made without rereading the other options. It will help you to resist the effects of the sights (of other people’s dinners), smells (wafting out of the kitchen) and sounds (of sizzling courses) that can present a powerful temptation. WEIGHTY WORDS When you’ve learned a few buzzwords that restaurants rely on to sell their culinary creations, you’ll be much more prepared for making a mindful selection. Surely you already know that “creamy,” “fried” and “loaded” indicate choices that should be avoided. But look out for other descriptors that indicate a dish likely to make a nutritionist’s hit list: • Aioli • Au gratin • Battered • Bearnaise • Breaded • Country-style • Creamed • Glazed • Hollandaise • Pan-fried • Sauced • Scalloped • Smothered • Stuffed Instead, seek out dishes described with the following adjectives: • Baked • Boiled • Braised • Broiled • Fresh • Grilled • Light • Marinate • Poached • Reduced • Roasted • Seasoned • Steamed PORTION DISTORTION It’s not just what’s in the food that makes it problematic, but also how much of it there is on the plate. In April 2016, researchers from Tufts University in Boston published a study that found that a whopping 92% of restaurant meals—served at both chain and non-chain restaurants—exceed the number of calories a person should eat at one meal. The worst offenders were American, Chinese and Italian restaurants, which had an average meal calorie count of 1,495—and that’s excluding beverages, appetizers and desserts. So, what can you do to minimize the damage? One obvious strategy is to plan on requesting a to-go box for half or more of the entrée, saving it for lunch or dinner tomorrow. Worried your eyes (and taste buds) will rule your good intentions? Request that box immediately, rather than waiting until the end of the meal. Here are some additional recommendations when dining out: • Ask the proprietors of your favorite local restaurants to add low-calorie options to various menu parts, including starters, entrees and sides. Vote with your wallet, and support restauranteurs that keep nutrition in mind. • Before you order, ask the server to estimate the size of the dish. Does that pasta dish feed one or two people? Is it a “family-style” portion? • Order an appetizer for yourself and plan to split a main course with a dining companion. If you’re alone, opt for two appetizers, which are more likely to be portion-controlled than the entrées. • Always leave just a few bites on the plate. Depending on the total calorie count of the meal, leaving even a mere three bites on your plate could save you 100 calories or more. • If dessert is a must, order just one for the entire table to share—that way, you get just a bite or two, which should be enough to satisfy your sweet tooth. TRICKS THAT DO (AND DON’T) WORK • Don’t skip a meal to “save” calories for a later meal out. You might want to go a little lighter on lunch than normal, but skipping it entirely will set you up for being downright ravenous by the time you get to the restaurant—and then you’ll end up consuming more calories than you would have if you had eaten earlier. • Do consider eating a healthy snack just before you head to the restaurant—a green apple or a small cup of yogurt might mean you will skip the high-fat appetizer. • Do start your dinner with a green salad. You’ll get the vegetables that probably won’t be a part of your main course, plus extra fiber, which fills you up. A study from the University of Pennsylvania concluded that those who ate a vegetable salad before their main course ate fewer calories overall. • Don’t order an entrée salad (in most cases). It may sound like the more nutritious option, but you might be shocked at the caloric content. For example, Applebees’ Grilled Chicken & Cornbread Salad (on the menu as of December 1, 2016) contains 1,130 calories and 71 grams of fat, while the Sirloin Stir Fry comes in at 750 calories and 77 grams of fat. (Note that both options are still way out of bounds for daily fat totals.) • Do request that any type of sauce or dressing is provided on the side. When eating, dip your fork in the sauce first and then load it up with the food—you’ll get a taste of the sauce without going overboard. • Don’t eat too quickly. Enjoy the food and the company. Those who eat quickly tend to eat more. • Do add and subtract ingredients to your liking. Don’t want mayo on that sandwich? Cut it. Prefer extra lettuce and tomatoes? Just ask. You can even request that the chicken be grilled, instead of fried. Don’t be shy about requesting modifications—after all, you’re forking over your hard-earned money for this meal. QUENCHING YOUR THIRST That margarita sounds delicious, but is it worth 250 calories? How about that decadent Choco-tini cocktail? Even non-alcoholic drinks add up quickly, with a 16-oz. cola providing around 170 calories. But, water? Zero calories. Club soda? Zilch. What you order to drink can make a big difference in the overall nutrition of your night out. Alcohol, as enjoyable as it can be, poses another threat—if you down that margarita on an empty stomach, you might feel slightly tipsy faster. Then your burger and fries arrive—the one you originally planned to split in half and put in a to-go box immediately. But with lowered inhibitions, you choose to eat most of it after all. Of course, many people specifically go out to eat in order to wind down and enjoy a tipple from time to time. If that’s the case, stick to a glass of red wine (around 100 calories, depending on the pour, plus the benefits of antioxidants!) or choose a low-calorie cocktail, such as vodka and club soda, which is also around 100 calories. FAST, BUT DIET-FRIENDLY Approximately 28% of Americans admit to eating fastfood at least once a week, while 16% report that they pick up fastfood several times weekly—yikes! Many quick-serve chains are trying to improve their menus with healthier options, so there are ways you can take advantage of drive-through convenience without going calorie-crazy. • McDonald’s has a bad rap, but the Egg McMuffin doesn’t contribute to it. If you need a quick breakfast, you really can’t do better than this—in the fastfood world, anyway—with 290 calories and 17 grams of protein. Shave off another 40 calories by sticking to an egg-white version. • If you’re visiting a sub shop, skip the cheese and add avocado instead. The cheese tends to get lost in the overall flavor of the sandwich, but with avocado, you’ll get healthy fats and tons of flavor. • At a quick-service Mexican place, such as Chipotle, customize your meal to your nutritious liking—request extra lettuce, lots of grilled vegetables and beans and skip the tortilla. • Stick to grilled or roasted meats versus fried or breaded items. • Order off the kid’s menu. Though many sit-down restaurants frown on adults ordering a pint-sized portion, fastfood staff won’t bat an eye. You could save a few hundred calories by ordering a junior hamburger instead of a standard one. BONUS WEB CONTENT Eat Well When Eating Out While some cuisines are naturally healthier than others, you can expect that any and every type of restaurant will have at least one option you can select that won’t derail your diet. Learn what foods to order—and which to avoid—in this month’s exclusive online content. Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonus to access. 50 million The number of customers that U.S. fast food establishments serve daily. Source: Statistic Brain, 2016 80% Percentage of restaurant owners who say their guests pay more attention to the nutrition content of food than they did two years ago. Source: National Restaurant Association 2016 76% The percentage of consumers that say they would prefer to dine at a restaurant with healthy options. Source: National Restaurant Association, 2015 2,196 mg Average amount of sodium in a U.S. chain restaurant meal Source: Journal of Food Compostion and Analysis, 2015 1,090 Total number of calories in a McDonald’s Big Mac, medium fries and medium Coca-Cola Source: McDonald’s 2016 77 The number of grams of sugar in P.F. Changs’ Sesame chicken (plus 2,590 mg of sodium!) Source: PF Chang’s China Bistro, Inc. Kelsey Casselbury is a freelance writer based in Odenton, Md. She is a former managing editor of this publication.
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