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Eat/Drink

BEYOND TRIM: Eat fewer calories while dining out

Simple steps can improve health

Sherry DeWalt of CGH Medical Center
Sherry DeWalt of CGH Medical Center

Restaurant meals accounted for less than 20 percent of the food dollars spent by Americans in the 1960s. By 2001, that figure had increased to almost 50 percent. I’m sure it’s even higher now. Whether it’s because of convenience, lack of interest in cooking, or simply not knowing how to cook, there are many people who eat two meals or more a day outside the home.

This can be a problem if you’re trying to eat healthier and watch your weight. Many restaurant meals are high in calories, unhealthy fats, and sodium. Large portion sizes serve only to multiply the problem and the pounds.

One solution might be to skip eating out entirely and prepare all your meals at home from scratch. I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen with me or with anyone I know. Therefore, if you are going to dine out daily, there are some things you can do to make those meals healthier:

Be proactive – Decide in advance what you will eat. This will save you from browsing the menu and being tempted by dishes that aren’t so healthy. Many restaurants post their menu online, so take a look and find something lighter. If you’re not able to do this, another option is to have a “go to” meal. Example: A grilled chicken breast with a side of fresh vegetables and a small salad can be found in most restaurants, even those of the fast food variety.

Be the first person to order – Some research shows that the first person to order may influence what is ordered by others at the table. If you are the last person to place your order, you might feel pressure to get “whatever she’s having” rather than the healthy meal you planned.

Practice portion control – Restaurant portions can be notoriously large. To make serving sizes more realistic, you can share a meal with a friend, ask for a to go container with your dinner and immediately divide your meal to save half for later, or ask for a half order of something.

Dine on the side – Rather than ordering a full entrée, consider making a meal out of appetizers or side dishes. For example, choose a cup of soup and a baked potato, or a small salad and a shrimp cocktail.

When I was a kid, we ate out only on rare occasions. These days we eat out more frequently and for different reasons. Since this is where many of us are getting most of our food, we need to give some thought to making those meals healthier.

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