Eating out is convenient and fun, but with large portions and harmful additives, it’s often not good for you. Learn some tips to make it healthier.
Americans are eating out and getting food to go more than ever — sometimes up to 5 nights a week. With busy schedules and an abundance of convenient dining options, it’s hard to avoid.
But takeout food can be unhealthy. With obesity and diet-related chronic conditions in America on the rise, it’s important to watch what we’re eating. According to the National Institutes for Health, more than two thirds of adults and one third of children in the United States are considered overweight or obese.
It’s healthiest to cook food at home, where we can control sugar, salt, and fat. But when faced with the inevitable reality of eating out, how can we make the healthiest choices?
Stephanie Burke, registered dietitian at Kaiser Permanente Vallejo Medical Center, meets with patients daily to talk about their nutritional concerns. She offers these 5 tips on how to eat out healthfully.
Drink Lots of Water
Many of us don’t drink enough water throughout the day — and we often mistake thirst for hunger. To avoid overeating, Burke recommends drinking a glass of water before you go out to eat or order takeout. Also, avoid sugary drinks, such as juices or soda.
“They don’t fill us up, and the sugar is just absorbed into the body quickly which isn’t great for our blood sugars,” Burke said.
In addition, staying hydrated by drinking water or sparkling water may make you feel less tempted to order alcohol, which brings on the cravings and loss of inhibitions that lead to overeating.
Don’t Restrict, Modify
Instead of not ordering a particularly tempting item, modify it to make it healthier. Ask for grilled salmon instead of fried chicken on top of a salad, or add a healthy fat like avocado to a sandwich and skip the processed meat, such as bacon.
“When possible, look for whole, natural foods as well as foods that are baked, broiled, poached, steamed, or grilled,” Burke said. “And choose one indulgent topping rather than all of them — such as having only ranch dressing on a salad and holding the bacon bits and mounds of cheese.”
Sharing Is Caring
Sharing menu items with family and friends is a great way to monitor portion control and your budget. It’s also a fun way to explore the restaurant’s offerings.
Also, if children are with you, encourage them to share a meal with you instead of choosing from the kids menu, which often features fried or cream-based dishes. This also helps to set up an early example of healthy eating.
Get Creative with the Menu
These days, there are many sections of a menu that can provide healthier options. Look to order from a senior or an a la carte menu, or from small plate selections, which all tend to have more reasonable potions. Try building a meal with these smaller plate options, such as a side of grilled chicken, side of whole beans, grains, steamed vegetables, or a small salad.
Chain restaurants in California are required by law to have nutritional information available to the public. When in doubt, look up this information online before going to the restaurant to see just how many calories are in each of the dishes. You may also want to check out the fat and sodium content as well.
View it as an Occasion
If you view going out to eat or taking out food as a celebratory occasion or treat, you’re less likely to do it.
“When we go out, we often think it’s a free pass to be indulgent,” Burke said. “And if we do this too frequently, it definitely catches up with us.”
Burke also urges her patients to take their time and develop “mindful eating habits” — thinking about what is going into their body and how it relates to their health.
“Ask yourself: ‘Am I enjoying each bite? Focusing on the taste?’ It’s not about eating perfectly and always having to restrict. I encourage clients to slow down, enjoy what they’re eating, and form a healthy relationship with food.”
In Northern California, Kaiser Permanente members have access to many excellent resources to support weight management, including classes, wellness coaching and online resources. For more information, check out: kp.org/mydoctor/healthyweight