We all eat out in restaurants, or do takeout. Weeknight dinners sitting down together as a family are sometimes replaced by eating dinner on the fly. And as each family member’s schedule becomes more crowded with activities, time is not always allotted for meal preparation.
On average, an individual who is eating a restaurant meal, will consume 30% more calories than they would eat if they were dining at home.
NYU nutrition experts weighed and measured everyday foods served in Manhattan delis, bakeries and sit-down restaurants, and their results were amazing. Compared to government recommended portion sizes:
- Pasta servings were five times larger
- Cookies were seven times larger
- Muffins weighed three times more
So while restaurant meals are a fact of life today, if they are a regular part of your week, you need to develop a unique skill set to successfully navigate your way through your food selections if you want to maintain a healthy body weight and live a heart healthy lifestyle.
Here are a few tips that will help you keep your calorie intake reasonable.
- Spoil your appetite. Do not starve yourself all day because you know you are having dinner out. You will arrive at the restaurant hungry which will encourage you to pounce on the bread and butter basket when it arrives and each high calorie/high fat item on the menu will be more appealing. Instead, eat a reasonable breakfast and lunch and consider having an apple or a small handful of nuts before your meal so that you can make a reasonable choice for dinner.
- Decide ahead of time if you are planning to drink alcohol or not. Alcohol can weaken your resolve to stick to your heart healthy meal plan. If you are having a cocktail, be mindful of the calories.
- Use the rule of one to limit your calories. One cocktail, one salad, one plate of food- not your main plate with a large bowl of pasta on the side
- One way to limit the calories of a restaurant meal is to order a salad and an appetizer for dinner. Considering portion sizes of the typical restaurant meal, the appetizer portion is close to ideal.
- Avoid the bread basket. Most of the bread will be made from white flour, so the best choice is to skip it. If the restaurant serves olive oil with their bread, that certainly is a better option than butter, but the bread is still white and olive oil is 120 calories a tablespoon.
- The waiter or waitress is there to help you. They want you to enjoy your dinner. Their livelihood and their tip is at stake. Use them as a resource.
- Find out how food is prepared. Is your entrée fried, baked, grilled or sautéed? Can you have it prepared without butter? Can you get the sauce on the side? Can you substitute a vegetables for the fries? Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- Order plenty of vegetables. Get a large salad to start your meal. Make sure to get the salad dressing “on the side” and then use your fork to distribute a limited quantity of salad dressing on your salad. A baked potato is a great choice when dining out. Ask how cooked vegetables are prepared. Sautee usually means cooked in oil. Ask if you can have your vegetables steamed.
- Be very aware of portion size. Restaurant portions are notoriously large. Picture your dinner plate at home. ½ of your plate should be from vegetables, ¼ of your plate should be from the protein portion of your meal and the remaining ¼ of the plate should be your carbohydrate.
It is possible to eat a heart healthy meal while dining out at a restaurant as long as you pay attention to your food choices and your portion size. Bon appétit!
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