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Make Better Choices When Dining Out

rsz_dining_out_better_choicesIf you are going to dine out, you have to be mindful and make wise choices.  Otherwise your waistline and your health will pay the price big time.  Here’s my advice to help you on your way:

Healthier Options Include:

Many places today, including coffee shops like Starbucks, offer oatmeal with dried fruit, nuts or berries.  This is one of the healthiest menu options offered and a good choice any time of day.  When I’m on the road and need a quick bite, this is often my first choice. 

I am a huge fan of salads, including main course salads, especially when they are made primarily with nutritious ingredients, like dark leafy greens and a healthy source of protein (like nuts, beans, grilled chicken or fish).  All salads, however, can be high in calories and fat, and many are loaded with sodium!  This is primarily because of the dressing.  Ask that your salad be lightly dressed or request the dressing on the side.  Watch out for unhealthy extras like croutons, bacon bits and cheese.

Bagels are usually a healthier choice than most muffins or donuts.  Stick with 100% whole grain varieties and consider sharing with a friend (most bagels are the equivalent of three slices of bread).  Whenever you dine out, always look for 100% whole grain options, including breads, pasta, tortillas and brown rice.

Fajitas and stir-fries made with lots of veggies and lean protein (like chicken or shrimp) are healthier than many other menu items, although most still contain more sodium than recommended.  Portion sizes, especially for fajitas, can easily be divided in two.

Grilled fish or chicken (skinless) with a side of veggies are also good options.  If you go for steak, sirloin steak and filet mignon are leanest – just remember that most steaks are two to four times larger than you need.

Yogurt berry or fruit parfaits (small size!) are generally a healthy snack.  They are relatively low in calories and contain good nutrition.  Low fat frozen yogurt mixed with fresh fruit is another option.   

What To Avoid or Limit:

Be careful with sandwiches.  While a very small wrap may contain less than 300 calories, a large panini can contain over 1000 calories and a huge dose of sodium.  Go for smaller sandwiches made with whole grain breads, lots of veggies and lean protein.  Limit fatty meats, high fat condiments and cheese.

If you love pizza (who doesn’t!), go for multi-grain, thin crust and top with lots of veggies.  Limit yourself to two slices.

If you enjoy a good burger now and again, choose child-size portions or share your burger with a friend.  Load your burger with shredded lettuce and tomatoes, not bacon and cheese.

Most pasta meals are very high in calories, fat and sodium due to crazy restaurant portion sizes.  A reasonable portion of pasta is no more than about 1 ½ cups worth.   If you order pasta, share it with a friend or take some home.  Tomato-based sauces generally have less fat and calories, but they’re still high in sodium.

You are NOT supposed to be drinking your calories!  Most people are consuming far too many calories in liquid form.  At your local coffee shop stay away from specialty coffees loaded with unhealthy syrups, sugar and whipped cream.  Stick with tea or coffee, or perhaps a latte or cappuccino sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg.  Add a spritz of sugar-free syrup if you like.

I’m not a fan of most restaurant or store-bought smoothies.  Many contain about 300 calories (some much more!) and almost all contain significant amounts of added sugar (it’s often in the form of “fruit juice concentrate” which is really just sugar, but sounds healthier).

Do I even have to tell you not to drink sugar-sweetened soft drinks?  Don’t.  The same goes for other sugar-loaded beverages, like iced tea and lemonade.  One of the worst items on most menus is the shakes or ice cream-type drinks – many contain 1000 calories or more!  Drink water, milk, or even a small chocolate milk instead.

At many restaurants the appetizers are a calorie disaster waiting to happen.  This includes items like nachos, garlic cheese bread, and anything battered or deep-fried.  Many of them have more calories, fat and sodium than the main meal.  If you want an appetizer, stick to something small and healthy – like a small side salad (easy on the dressing).

What’s most unhealthy for your body and your waistline?  Stay away from wings, poutine, ribs, giant burgers and pasta with cream sauces (or eat them only on your birthday!).

Last but not least, most people don’t need dessert.  Go for a walk instead.

Lessons Learned:

Healthier options when dining out include oatmeal, yogurt, salads (lightly dressed), whole grains, lean protein and lots of veggies.  Watch out for calorie-laden appetizers, giant burgers, pizza, ribs, wings, too much pasta and calorie-loaded drinks, including specialty coffees, soft drinks and even smoothies.




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