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Degree: Make smarter choices dining out

This week we will identify how to make healthy choices when eating out. Eating away from home used to be an every-once-in-a-while occasion; you may have eaten out on your birthday or other special event. Today, however, more and more meals are eaten away from home in restaurants. The number of people who eat at least one away-from-home food or beverage in the course of a day has increased dramatically over the past 20 years. On any given day, almost half of all adults in the United States will eat a restaurant meal.
The fact that we eat out at restaurants more often has a significant influence on what we eat and how much we eat. Consider these questions for a moment: How often do you eat out? Have you ever thought about what eating out usually means? It means that you will more than likely have:
• Larger portions.
• More calories and fat.
• Fewer fruits and vegetables.
• Fewer whole grains.
• Fewer low-fat dairy products.
• Less fiber.
Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with eating out on occasion, but a growing body of evidence suggests that when we eat out, we are likely to eat more calories than we need and people who eat out more often are more likely to be at an unhealthy weight. But that doesn’t have to be the case — there are some ways to avoid this.
When you are eat out you need to have some strategies in place to help you eat healthy when you are eating away from home. Prepare before you go:
• Check the menu before you go so you can plan what you will order (get the menu from the Internet or from the restaurant).
• Check the restaurant Web site for nutrition information. Since restaurant preparation varies from restaurant to restaurant, what is a smart choice at one restaurant may not be a smart choice at another.
• Eat less during other meals when you know you will be going out to eat.
• Choose a restaurant that you know offers low-calorie options.
• Choose a restaurant that will allow you to share your meal.
Think before you order:
• Think about how hungry you are: very hungry, hungry, not so hungry.
• Read the menu carefully. Try not to order more food than you need.
Control portions:
• Split an entrée.
• Order an appetizer as an entrée.
• Take part of your meal home. You may want to ask for the to-go container at the beginning of your meal so you are not tempted to eat more than you need.
• Don’t order the largest burger, fries or drink. If you do, share with a friend or family member.
Choose healthier options:
• Avoid menu items that use words like: crispy, creamy, sautéed, pan-fried, buttery, breaded, sauced or stuffed. These menu items will generally be higher in calories and fat.
• Choose simple foods. Generally, the more we do to food during preparation, the more calories and fat are added. A simple chicken breast may be a good choice, but adding bacon and cheese adds lots of calories.
• Choose simple grilled or broiled seafood, chicken, pork or beef with no sauce or sauce on the side.
Healthy Options:
Order it the way you want it. Don’t be afraid to ask for it prepared differently than the menu description or to ask for different side items.
For example, if you don’t see a simple grilled chicken breast on the menu but you do see chicken dishes with cheese or sauce, ask if you can have a chicken breast prepared with just herbs or plain.
Ask if there is anything you can substitute, such as a small salad, steamed vegetables or baked potato.
Choosing low-calorie condiments is one way to cut back — choose mustard instead of mayonnaise on sandwiches.
Try salsa with a baked potato instead of sour cream or butter.
Choose entrées with lots of fruits and vegetables.
Choose pasta dishes with tomato sauce instead of cream sauce.
What to skip:
• Breadbasket – you may end up consuming hundreds of calories before you even get your food. One garlic breadstick can have as many as 150 calories.
• Dessert. Most desserts at restaurants are high in calories. Instead order one dessert for the table and have one bite. Order sorbet or fresh fruit, or have a small piece of chocolate at home.
• Buffets and all-you-can-eat restaurants. Many foods are offered, and you are allowed to use as many plates as you want.
Eating out doesn’t have to add extra pounds to your waistline, but remember what Winston Churchill said: “He who fails to plan is planning to fail” during World War II. In order to come out victorious you have to have a plan when you go in your favorite restaurant or you are setting yourself up for failure! Try it… you will be amazed at what you will find. Have a good week. Don’t forget to select a strategy (from this weeks topic).
Next week our topic will be move strong. Let me know how you are doing!
Toi N. Degree is a family and consumer education agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Rowan County Center. Email her at toi-degree@ncsu.edu.

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