How To Eat Well While Eating Out
Studies indicate that people who eat mostly at home have the best results when it comes to maintaining a diet. One reason is that too many restaurants believe financial success comes from offering calorie-laden menu items served in huge portions. Although there are numerous items that are both delicious and reasonably low in fat and calories, many restaurateurs make little effort to identify or serve them. And although many restaurant customers feel both overwhelmed and overcharged by excessively large portions, restaurant owners know that lowering the portion size will inevitably result in a lower average check. The result is that many restaurant entrée dishes are well over 1000 calories, sometimes over 2000 calories! Below, you will find a collection of suggestions that will help you enjoy your restaurant meal without breaking the calorie bank!
There are several ways to deal with the portion problem. First, eat something before going out to avoid being so hungry that you binge on fattening items. Another technique, one that requires considerable self-discipline, is to eat no more than half the amount on the plate then ask the waiter to box up the rest before you are tempted to finish it. Better yet, when you are served an oversized portion ask for a doggy bag immediately and put the excess out of temptation. If you have activist tendencies and are served what you consider to be a too-large portion, ask the waiter to pass on to the manager or owner your opinion that if they served reasonably sized portions at a slightly lower price their business would increase, or tell him or her yourself!
My wife and I often split a hamburger and fries or other sandwiches. A third or even a quarter-pounder with fries can be plenty for two, and the staff is almost always happy to do the cutting and serve the meals on two different plates.
Another effective technique is to eat until you are not quite full and quit, something that can also be used at home. This latter method is thought to be part of the reason for the health and longevity of the people of Okinawa, where an important social custom is to eat only until you are eighty-percent full.
Many people order a Caesar salad with grilled chicken under the assumption that this is a healthy, relatively low calorie meal. It certainly can be, but often is not. It depends mostly on the type and amount of dressing. For example, the chicken Caesar salad at one popular chain is over 1000 calories, with over 680 of those calories from fat, and that’s without crackers! While the original Caesar dressing was made with healthy ingredients, including olive oil, lime juice, an egg, and anchovies, many restaurants use less healthy ingredients, including cream and low quality oil. They also often use way more dressing than necessary. Your best defense is to ask for the dressing on the side and to use no more (and, of course, no less) than you need to enjoy the meal. Of course, the above holds true for most other kinds of salads. At fast food places like Jack in the Box, order a “kid’s” burger, or a grilled chicken sandwich with catsup or mustard instead of mayo.
During the workday, brown-bagging is an alternative that can save money, time, and calories and lead to a much healthier diet. Also, instead of going to a restaurant, try going to a supermarket and buying a single roll in the bakery and two or three ounces of sliced turkey at the deli. These places usually have small packets of mustard and catsup that you can use to finish your sandwich, or you can keep some in your car. Many supermarkets also have other convenient and healthful options, including salads, sushi, yogurt, and fruit.
Mexican restaurants in the U.S. can be particularly challenging for those interested in eating healthily, but there are some excellent alternatives. I hestitate to suggest going easy on the chips because, for a lot of people, they are one of the major attractions, but do give it a try. Especially, beware of salsas laced with more salt than you usually have in an entire day, put there to encourage you to buy expensive (and calorie rich) drinks. If you are not too hungry, an ideal choice is tortilla soup accompanied by corn tortillas. For more hearty appetites, enchiladas filled with chicken and topped with a tomatillo-chile sauce are excellent. Other good choices are either entrees or tacos of fajita-style chicken. And remember, most restaurants will offer things like tacos, tostadas, beans, and rice a la carte, which can save both money and calories! One technique that works well for me with a combination plate is to take two bites of the rice, beans, and lettuce or cabbage garnish to every one of the enchilada, taco, tamale, or whatever else comes on the plate. I am often full before I have finished the higher calorie items.
If you eat out frequently, I suggest you pick up a copy of Eat This Not That, by David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding. Although somewhat deceptively subtitled, The No Diet Weight Loss Solution, the book is full of excellent information and suggestions, and many of them deal with specific restaurants. If you eat regularly at any of the establishments covered, it can help you to drop over a thousand calories in a single meal! Besides shocking the reader with the amount of calories and fat they are being served, the book provides suggestions for better eating at a comprehensive list of chain restaurants. One example is their advice that to reduce your meal at the Chipotle Grill by 498 calories, all you need to do is order a chicken burritio as a bowl without the tortilla and rice!