Eating Out is No Longer a ‘Treat’
Eating out at a restaurant used to be considered a treat. An uncommon indulgence. However, since the 1970s eating away from home has become more and more common with Americans, now eating upwards of 43% of their meals and 32% of their calories away from home (up from 25% and 18% in 1970).
When eating at a restaurant was an infrequent indulgence, you didn’t have to pay too much attention to what you were eating, but now that eating out is more and more becoming the norm, to lose or maintain your weight and improve your health, you need to be nutritionally savvy when on the go. Here are some steps to serve as your survival guide.
Avoid Empty Calories
Eating out is a constant battle of controlling calories. You can make a lot of headway by avoiding empty calories. This includes free bread or tortilla chips, and calorie containing drinks. Ask your server to take away the bread/chips and opt for beverages that don’t contain calories (water, sparkling water, diet soda, tea, etc).
One of the most important things to remember is that the portions you are served are not necessarily the portions that you should be eating. It is important to remember that chefs aren’t trained in nutrition. This is illustrated by the fact that 76% of chefs thought the portions of pasta and steak they were serving were regular but they were actually 2-4 times what would be considered a normal serving.
Other research shows that 73% of chefs think they could reduce the calorie content of their meals by 10-20% without customers ever knowing (but they aren’t doing this!).
Know what portion is appropriate for you. Use simple guides like:
Protein the size of 1-2 of your palm(s).
Rice or Pasta that fits in the palm of your cupped hand
Oil or dressing the size of a poker chip.
Do Nutrition Reconnaissance
The calorie content of meals is very often available on a restaurant’s website but it is not always easily accessible onsite. Online, some companies have nutrition calculators where you can create your ideal meal and see what the calorie, protein, carbohydrate, and fat breakdown would be. Use these tools whenever possible to empower your ordering decisions.
Vegetables, Vegetables, and More Vegetables
When eating out, vegetables are your friend. Dr. Barbara Rolls’ research on eating behavior is pretty clear and consistent, the more vegetables you eat (preferably green leafy ones) the less calories you are going to eat. Pile on the vegetables.
This means starting off your meal with a salad. Not a salad with bacon, cheese, eggs, avocado, walnuts, and salad dressing. A simple ‘house’ salad with lots of greens. Dr. Rolls’ research shows that having a salad before a meal can decrease the total amount of calories that you eat by 10-12%. If you aren’t big on salads, her research shows similar results with broth based vegetable soups.
Decode the Menu
How a meal is described on a menu can provide you with a lot of information about the calorie content of that meal.
Avoid Foods described as:
Meals described in this fashion are going to be higher in calories and prepared using more fat.
Pick Foods described as:
Meals described in this fashion are going to be lower in calories. The amount of fat used in these preparation techniques is greatly reduced.