In today’s fast-paced world, eating out is common. In fact, a Zagat survey found the average American eats out five times per week. While dining out offers many benefits such as convenience and socializing, if you’re not careful it can have a negative impact on your health.
The sad truth is that many restaurant items are loaded with calories, saturated fat, sugar and salt. However, with a bit of planning you can make smarter choices that benefit your health.
Here are a few tips to help you eat healthier while dining out:
- Avoid all-you-can-eat buffets – These types of restaurants make it too easy to overeat and take in more calories than you need because you’re faced with a lot of foods that look good but aren’t good for you.
- Examine menus in advance – If you know where you’re going out to eat, take time to check out the restaurant’s website in advance. You can likely view the menu and decide what you’re going to eat before you even go. This will help you avoid the temptation to order something that’s not good for you.
- Look at how items are prepared – Menus often offer clues as to which items are healthier. For example, items that are grilled, roasted, steamed, boiled or baked are usually safe bets. Whereas items that are fried, buttered, stuffed or scalloped should maybe be avoided. Your server is a good resource – he or she can provide you with more information about your meal and let you know if the chef can prepare items differently – for example, baked instead of fried.
- Ask for substitutions – If your meal comes with fries, ask if you can substitute a baked potato or vegetable. Also remember to ask for salad dressings, sauces and butter on the side so you can control the amount you add to your meal.
- Beware the salad myth – People often believe a salad is the healthiest thing on the menu. Salads are usually a healthy choice but not if they are loaded with cheese, bacon and high-fat dressing. Opt for greens dressed with raw vegetables and fruit and avoid cheeses, fatty meats, marinated salads, pasta salads and creamy dressings.
- Request a smaller portion – Restaurant portions tend to be large and more than a single serving. But some restaurants offer the option of a half portion. If this isn’t available, ask your server to box up half your meal right away to help you avoid overeating.
For more dining out strategies, make an appointment with your primary care physician or a dietitian. To find a primary care physician near you, reach out to your health insurance provider.