A Nutritionist’s Guide to Eating Out | Health beat
Whether it’s a Friday night dinner with family or friends, a business lunch, or a take-away at your favorite restaurant, eating out can be a disaster for those trying to eat healthy.
But it doesn’t have to.
With a little thought and planning, healthy eating is possible, said Spectrum Health nutritionist Kristi Veltkamp.
“Many restaurants know that people want to eat healthier,” says Veltkamp. “Pretty much everywhere there is always a healthy option.”
Here are her tips for saving calories and increasing nutritional value when eating out.
1. Get yourself in the right mood
We often fall into the trap that we feel like eating out is a special occasion – and that’s why we should eat what and how much we want, said Veltkamp. This can work if you rarely eat out, but if it’s a regular habit it can get you off track.
Veltkamp likes a strategy she learned in the book The Diet Trap Solution: Train Your Brain to Lose Weight. Think about the traps that will lead you astray and anticipate in advance how you will deal with them.
“Having it decided in advance takes away the debate you have to have when you get there,” she said. “If you’ve already made up your mind, you don’t need to think about it.”
Many restaurants have their menus available online – some with nutritional information so you can plan your ordering from home.
“Sometimes it helps not to be distracted by why other people are ordering or what you see on the menu when you get there,” she said.
Another thought strategy: fast forward and remember that you are leaving the restaurant.
“Ask yourself, ‘How do I want to feel emotionally or physically when I leave the restaurant?” Said Veltkamp. “Is it worth feeling that way afterwards?”
2. Know what you are looking for
Sometimes it is difficult to know what is healthy and what is not on a restaurant’s menu, said Veltkamp.
For your main course, look for a lean source of protein that isn’t breaded or deep-fried, such as grilled or baked fish or chicken. If you want beef, choose a leaner piece like sirloin, she suggested.
Then think about your side dishes and opt for a baked potato, salad, steamed vegetables or fruit. Soups on broth (not creamy) are also good options.
And watch out for your add-ons like bread, starters, and dessert. You can request that your waiter not bring bread or tortilla chips on the table before you eat – or that he only bring one serving per person.
Or, ask that they bring your salad first so you have something to eat while you wait for your appetizer. Even sipping on a coffee or tea can help avoid the nibbles before you eat, she said.
On special occasions, ordering a starter or dessert can be fun, says Veltkamp. Consider sharing it with your dining partners or asking if you can just eat a bite from someone else.
3. Check your portion size
One thing about eating out is almost universal – most restaurants offer way more than the recommended serving size, Veltkamp warned.
In fact, it’s often enough for two meals, she said.
Veltkamp recommends using your hand as a portion aid. Your palm should be the size of your protein serving. Then half of your plate should be filled with vegetables, followed by 1 to 2 cups of starch.
Other tips: Order a kid serving or a senior serving if that’s an option. Order a meal and share it with someone. Or ask for a to-go box when they bring your food and put half of the meal in the box right away.
“If we see it there, we’ll keep picking on it,” said Veltkamp. “It helps to split it up early and get it out of sight because talking makes us distracted and we don’t pay as much attention when we are full.
“That gives you a good starting point,” she said. “And when you then have the feeling that you could use a little more food, you can always take more out of the to-go box.”
Also, keep in mind that it takes your brain around 20 minutes to know that your stomach is full. So slow down, eat consciously, and stop when you are satisfied.
4. Ask questions
“It’s okay to ask questions and try to customize meals,” Veltkamp said.
How is this cooked? Is it buttered? Which sauces are added? I eat a healthy heart or low sodium diet – what would you recommend?
“Sometimes there are options that are not on the menu,” says Veltkamp. “I’ve found many times that they can accommodate a lot of things just by asking questions.”
5. Watch your drinks
It’s possible to have a very healthy meal and then sabotage it by ordering high-sugar and high-calorie drinks, Veltkamp said.
Soft drinks, sweetened iced tea, lemonade, wine, beer, and sweet alcoholic beverages like piña coladas and daiquiris can quickly add calories in the form of carbohydrates.
Therefore, Veltkamp asked the guests to know how many calories their drink has – and in what portion size.
One serving size of wine is 5 ounces and beer is 12 ounces, she said.
“Remember that when you order, because you could have two servings instead of one,” said Veltkamp.
With these tools, even those who stick to a healthy diet can enjoy a night out or a take away night at home without cluttering their diet, Veltkamp said.
“You just have to be careful,” she said.
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