Monday, January 3, 2011

Kelly’s Guide to Eating Out in Sit-down Restaurants

Most people I work with can do fine when eating meals at home because they have full control over the foods they put into their body. However, dining out often presents many diet challenges, and therefore, a lot of people use this as an opportunity to “splurge.” If you rarely eat out, splurging once a month or less will probably not derail your diet. However, if you eat out once a week or more, eating whatever you want when you go out will most likely end in weight gain and/or feeling sluggish and unhealthy. So, follow my tips below for a successful dining experience:

1.        Order water and only have one alcoholic drink (or none at all!): Choose a 12 oz beer, or 5 oz. of wine. Each of these will cost you about 120-150 calories, which is comparable to one small dinner roll. So, if you drink more, think about how many dinner rolls you would be consuming over the course of the evening.
2.        If you must have an entrée, always choose something you don’t make at home and try to pick something you enjoy that also has known health benefits (eg: salmon). Choose meals that are not pasta-based (eg: salmon with potatoes and vegetables).
3.        Ideally, select two small items as your meal (eg: soup and salad, 2 appetizers).
4.        Eating a dinner roll is okay, but eat it with your meal instead of before. Eating bread with the meal will help you realize that this counts as a starch, and not a free food. If available, always opt for whole-grain and dark breads. Avoid cheesy or buttery rolls and breadsticks.
5.        Eat slooowly! Try to engage in conversation and pace yourself so you finish your meal with the others at your table. Take sips of water in between each bite.
6.        Do not order dessert…. It’s extra money, you are most likely full from your meal, so what’s the point?


SOUPS:          Choose broth or tomato-based soups (if you are unsure, ask if there is dairy in the soup) and try to pick something heavy in vegetables. AVOID chowders, bisques, French Onion or anything with cream or cheese.
SALADS:        Always order salads that do not contain bacon, egg, or cheese. Ask for your dressing to be on the side (and do not pour the entire thing on your salad). Pick vinaigrettes or “light” salad dressings. Try to avoid croutons and add a lean protein if you are making the salad your meal (eg: grilled chicken, salmon, etc.)
APPETIZERS: Pick vegetable-based appetizers and avoid anything that is fried or has copious amounts of cheese (cream cheese included). Healthy appetizer options include smoked salmon, steamed dumplings, edamame,  marinated veggies, shrimp cocktail. 
MEXICAN:     Ask for foods to be prepared without cheese and sour cream. Choose soft tortillas, beans (any variety), and chicken-based dishes. Add salsa and hot sauces for added flavor. Guacamole is a healthy choice, just watch portion size as each tablespoon has about 30 calories, and the average side is 150 calories worth.
CHINESE:      Pick steamed entrees or stir-fried without lots of noodles and ask for the sauce on the side if possible (usually very high in sodium). If you order tofu, ask for it to be steamed. Always have your rice on the side and add it as you need (choose brown if available). Pick seafood or chicken based meals and ask for no pork (sometimes they sneak it in!).
JAPANESE:    Choose sushi that is just the basic fish, vegtetables, and rice, do not pick special rolls like Philadelphia which contain cream cheese. Avoid tempuras. Japanese restaurants offer many healthy options with lots of vegetables and edamame, so make sure you pick these (but watch your edamame portion size- one handful will do).
ITALIAN:        As mentioned before, try to avoid pasta… or eat the vegetables and lean meats first, and then eat less than half of the pasta on your plate. Choose marinara based sauces and avoid pestos, alfredos, butter, or cream sauces. Eating healthy at an Italian restaurant is possible, just be sure to ask for extra veggies!
MIDDLE EASTERN: Order pita and hummus-based dishes and watch out for spanokopita. Pick lentil soups, yogurt salads, and white-meat chicken shish kabob type entrees.

·        DO NOT BE AFRAID TO SPECIAL ORDER: Ask for meals without cheese, bacon, prosciutto, sour cream, butter, etc. Most restaurants will accommodate these requests. Substitute high-fat meat for vegetables whenever possible.
·        As you have probably heard before: wrap ½ your entrée to go or share with a friend.
·        If you eat the bread and rolls, dip in olive oil instead of butter, or leave dry and eat with your protein.
·        Drink water with your meal… limit the alcohol and sweetened beverages
·        Always choose meals with lots of vegetables
·        Beware of “vegetarian” meals as they often contain cheese to replace the meat, and are therefore, very high in saturated fat and calories.

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Beth Ann said...

Interesting info. Why not french onion soup, because of the sodium or cheese? Both?

Kelly Strogen, MS, RD, LDN said...

Thanks for the question Beth Ann. In general, most French Onion soups you buy at a restaurant or cafe are looaded with sodium- on average- over 2300 mg per bowl (most soups are high, but that is the recommended amount for the entire day). Also, the croutons, butter, and cheese on top make it unhealthy by adding extra fat, saturated fat, and calories (usually 11-30 g fat, and over 330 calories).