Tuesday, 7 p.m. and your child just finished soccer practice—fast-food burgers. Friday, 5 p.m. and you’re not cooking tonight—local diner. Sunday, noon and it’s your mom’s birthday—Italian food restaurant. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Did you know that on average one out of every three meals is eaten away from home?
With our fast-paced lifestyles, eating out is more convenient now than ever. But with restaurant supersized portions and hidden calories, this seemingly innocent convenience has had a definite impact on the obesity epidemic.
Restaurant meals almost always have more calories than you realize and if you’re not careful those calories can sabotage your weight loss efforts. That’s not to say you can never eat out if you want to be healthy. You just have to be smart about it. Here are seven simple tips that can help you make healthy choices when you do eat out.
1. Do Your Research
Most chain restaurants post menu nutrition information online. Don’t assume that you can judge a meal’s nutritional content based on its title. You’ll often find that even healthy sounding meals are loaded with calories.
2. Think About Your Drink
Calories—empty calories—won’t fill you up the same way that solid calories do, so it’s best to avoid these altogether. You should try stick with water or unsweetened tea.
3. Avoid Appetizers and Complimentary Carbs
If you want something before your meal, play it safe with a green salad—with dressing on the side—or a broth-based soup.
4. Divide Your Meal in Half
Most restaurant entrees have enough calories for two people. So, split the meal with a friend or take half home for later. It’s a good idea to ask for a takeaway box and split the meal as soon as the food comes to the table.
5. Order Protein Prepared Properly
Your best bet will be lean protein like chicken breast, fish, shellfish, tenderloin or sirloin. But make sure it’s broiled, grilled and baked—not fried.
6. Sidestep Dressings and Sauces
Salads can often be the healthiest thing on the menu but you have to watch out for the dressing and toppings. Ask for dressing on the side and don’t be afraid to cut the high calorie salad toppings like bacon bits, tortilla chips, croutons or fried wontons. Also make sure to steer clear of creamy sauces like gravy, alfredo or anything with the word butter.
7. Sweet Decisions
We all need a sweet treat every once in a while, but a restaurant dessert isn’t really the best way to go. If you are going to order a dessert, go for fresh fruit sorbets or sherbets. Or another option is to split a regular dessert with everyone at the table.
You see, you can still eat out and be healthy. Now you know how to be smart about it.