Time-crunched and tired after a long workday? If you’re like most, you welcome a dinner out. But when you don’t dine at home, you have less control over ingredients, preparation methods and portion sizes — all of which can lead to a meal that’s higher in calories and fat than you may like. You needn’t worry about skipping dinner out, says Maxine Smith, RD, LD, clinical dietitian in Cleveland Clinic’s Digestive Disease Institute. Instead, follow these easy tips and enjoy — without guilt — your time away from the kitchen!
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1. Plan ahead
Check out the menu ahead of time to plan your healthy choice. Chain restaurants often have nutrition information on their websites, which can further guide your decision.
2. Make your own rules
Choose your dining-out rules, then stick to them. Some common rules include: deciding to review only certain sections of a menu, choosing only non-fried foods, refusing the bread basket, leaving 1/3 of your food on your plate or eating dessert only when shared by the family.
3. Check the menu
Look for menu items that are steamed, broiled, grilled, stir-fried (with broth or water), roasted or poached while avoiding foods that are described as buttery or buttered; crispy, sautéed, fried or pan-fried; and creamed, scalloped or au gratin.
4. Order it “dry”
Request foods prepared “dry” or without oil/butter. A food may be prepared in a healthful manner and yet have plenty of “hidden” fats added which rack up the calories. Broth, lemon, wine, herbs, spices and salsa can provide plenty of flavor without concentrated fat calories.
5. Make substitutions
Substitute a vegetable, side salad or fruit cup for a potato, pasta or rice. This one substitution can save you a couple of hundred calories.
6. Be careful at the salad bar
Although salad bars sound healthy, steer clear of cheeses, creamy potato/macaroni salads, bacon bits, croutons and sweetened dried fruits while choosing a plethora of vegetables with some lean protein such as chicken, egg or beans, which will help fill you up.
7. Watch the dressing
Opt for fat-free or “light” salad dressings. For extra wellness points, ditch the dressing altogether and use balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon juice on your salad.
8. Take it with you
When your food arrives at the table, immediately ask for a to-go container. Pack up a portion of your meal, close the lid and enjoy the rest of your meal another day. Better yet, request that half your meal be packaged in the kitchen prior to serving.
9. Savor it
Eat slowly and mindfully, savoring each bite and stopping when satisfied. Your feeling of fullness will increase over the next half hour after eating. Have a healthy snack planned in a couple of hours so you do not feel the need to overeat in order to carry you to the next meal.
10. Avoid sugary soda
Choose sugar-free beverages such as water with lemon or a cup of coffee. Soda calories add up quickly, especially when refilled automatically.