Healthy Guide To Dining Out

By Kimberly Asman - Staff Writer

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Photo courtesy of Basheer Tome (Flickr)
Tips for staying healthy while eating at restaurants from our resident nutritionist. Photo courtesy of Basheer Tome (Flickr)

Sometimes, we feel pressured to eat out at a restaurant when we are trying to be healthy or we may be super-rushed due to our hectic schedules and be left with no choice but to grab lunch or dinner on-the-go. It may seem impossible, but you can eat at most restaurants without sabotaging your goals and leaving yourself filled with regret. Some restaurants are definitely better than others, but it is possible to find the best option anywhere, even if it is just the best of the worst.

Eating out is fun and a great way to enjoy company and food and does not have to be avoided in order to be healthy.

Knowing what is in food before going to a restaurant is definitely the easiest way to make an informed choice about what you want to eat. Almost all chain restaurants have their complete nutrition information online, but they usually come in huge charts that may be hard to decipher. Take a deep breath and focus in on the key aspects of restaurant food that tend to make it unhealthy.

Often fat and sodium are two of the biggest culprits on restaurant menus. Even though food may seem fresh, it is often premade and just heated up at the restaurant, which means it is a processed item packed with sodium. Fat lends to flavor and apparently healthy options, such as the green bean crispers at Applebee’s, are packed with as much fat as you need in a day. That appetizer, for example, has 43 grams of fat, which is right around what you need for an entire day if you have a 2,000 calorie diet. Look for options with the lowest sodium possible that you would still enjoy and try to keep the fat to around 20 grams or less.

If you go somewhere that does not have nutrition information readily available, such as a boutique café or local restaurant, there are other ways to find healthy meals without knowing the numbers. If you are looking for breakfast and want a smoothie, ask about what is in it. Try to find one based with milk to give you filling protein and finished with added fruits and vegetables. Watch out for juices, which are often just glorified fruit juice that give you a ton of sugar without the fiber that comes with eating whole fruits and vegetables.

If you are out for lunch and want a sandwich, stick to 100 percent whole grain bread with a lean protein such as chicken with tons of vegetables on top. For a side, go for fruit instead of chips.

When it comes to dinner, try to focus your meal around vegetables with some protein and starch added in. That will give you the healthiest base that will fill you up, so you will not need as much of the fattening options.

Do not be afraid to ask how the vegetables are prepared. Any type of frying almost defeats the purpose of having them and loads them with butter or cream. Find sautéed, stir-fried or steamed vegetables for your best options. Add on a whole grain such as brown rice and some protein such as chicken or beans. Using these simple guidelines will help you make a decent plate anywhere, as these are essentials any restaurant has.

When eating at Italian restaurants, limit yourself to only one piece of bread and ask about whole grain pastas. Stick to a tomato-based sauce instead of a creamy one to save calories and fat.

If you want to indulge on your favorite unhealthy item, go for it. Make sure it stays as an indulgence, though, and avoid going to your favorite treats often. Keep them as treats and savor every bite!

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