Making Healthy Food Choices at Your Favorite Restaurant

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Eating out at restaurants can be a fun activity to do with friends and family, but it can also be a nerve-racking experience for those of us who are trying to manage our weight.

While some restaurants are trying to make eating at their establishment a healthier experience, in ways such as placing nutritional information in their menus or offering a selection of healthier options, you may still feel as though keeping your portions and nutrition in-check while out can be a challenging task.

Whatever your reason for going out to eat — whether it’s due to convenience, social events or simply because it’s easier than preparing a meal at home — it can be a part of a balanced diet if what you eat is consumed in moderation and the appropriate choices are made.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you sit down at the table in your favorite restaurant:

1. Watch your portions. Portions are huge! A good rule of thumb is to box up half of what you ordered and take it home with you. You may also want to consider asking a friend or family member to share a plate with you instead of both of you ordering your own entrée.

2. Avoid fried foods, cheese sauces or full fat dressings. The calories in these can add up quickly. For example, a plain hamburger topped with cheese, ranch and bacon can turn a 400 calorie meal into an 800 calorie one!

3. Preparation is key. Let your server know exactly how you want to prepare your entrée. Let them know the specifics on how you want it cooked, what you don’t want included or what you may want on the side instead.

4. Know what you want to order before you walk in. It is easy to find menus online. Take a look at them and decide what you want to order before you walk in. Sometimes, if you don’t ask for a menu when you get there, you won’t be tempted to get something that’s less healthy for you.

5. Skip appetizers, desserts and alcohol. All of these are nice as treats or for special occasions, but including these in your meal will add additional calories to your meal that you may not have planned for.

Interested in learning more about what to eat when you’re out at a restaurant? Check out these resources:

  • Healthy Dining Finder: a go-to Web site for anyone looking to learn more about the nutrition at their favorite restaurants. Healthy Dining Finder offers menu information, recommendations for the best meals at various places across the U.S., and articles from registered dietitians about what foods they recommend and why.
  • MyFitnessPal: This app can be a great tool if you’re trying to measure your calories consumption throughout the day. You can use the app to scan barcodes off your favorite foods, or search for a meal at many popular chain restaurants, and they’ll have the nutritional information available for you to view.
  • OAC Blog: Strategies for Celebrations – Holidays, Eating Out and Vacations: If you’re trying to manage your weight during the happiest times of your life, it can seem like you’re spending more of your time worrying about food than you are about having fun. Doreen Lerner, PhD, understands this issue and provides advice in this blog post for how you can enjoy yourself without messing up your weight management goals.

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