Ten top tips for eating healthy at restaurants

Whether you go out for meals or order food in, restaurant dining may provide myriad nutritional struggles.

People eat out more than ever before. The key to being nutritionally successful at eating meals in restaurants is to realise that going out to dinner may not be the infrequent treat of our childhood.

With alarming statistics on obesity and the relation of obesity to eating large portions of high-fat food options and alcohol consumption, it is not hard to link eating out with weight gain.

Healthy choices are available on many menus, and the trick is to find the best options to stay on track. As a summary of healthy eating strategies for restaurants, here are a few helpful suggestions to use:

Keep hunger under control. Skipping meals and snacks to save calories for your meal out may backfire as portions often tend to be large and one-size-fits-all. Consider eating lighter calorie options during the day, but do not miss meals. It may also be an idea if the dinner is to be later than you usually eat, to have a small meal option before you go.

Choose restaurants that offer variety. Treat the menu like an ingredients list and order with clarity. Ask questions and ask for healthy suggestions. If the restaurant is busy, or if you are in a large group and may not feel comfortable ordering different from the menu of options, then call the restaurant to get the menu ahead of time and make arrangements for what you would like to order.

Order more plant-based, less sauce covered items. Look for interesting vegetarian and exotic food items you may not be likely to make for yourself at home. Order with sauces on the side, or trade out sauces for lower calories options that are tomato-based. Salads are a great option, but keep dressings to the side and dip your fork before spearing the vegetables to minimise the dressing and maximise the flavour.

Order baked, not fried; grilled, not sautéed; barbequed, not stewed. To improve portion control, ask about starter or half-portions for entrees. Cut back on the condiments and additives for meals. It is best to taste your meal before salting. Drink a lot of water, and moderate the amount of alcohol consumed with the meal.

Mind your manners. Eating slowly and resting your fork down between small mouthfuls will allow for better conversation and digestion. It takes time for the stomach to register to the brain that it is full, so pacing is important to not overeat. Share your meal with your dinner date, or order a number of smaller portions like tapas to reduce overall portion size and increase variety.

As a guide to ethnic dining, one may not be as familiar with finding healthy options. For Chinese, look for steamed, stir-fried, poached and boiled options with very little sauce and low fat protein choices. Avoid spareribs, fried wontons, egg rolls, fried rice, and foods prepared with MSG. For Italian, order marinara (tomato-based), marsala (based in wine), clam sauce and pasta primavera.

Simply prepared fish and chicken dishes are also a great option. Avoid pasta stuffed with cheese, cream sauces, butter sauces, and veal dishes.

For Japanese menus, order steamed rice, soba or udon noodles, yaki soba, yakitori, shumai, tofu, sukiyaki, kayaku goban, or any other dishes that are lean protein and vegetable-based with little or light sauces. Bon Appetite!

Tara Godfrey is a Nutritional Counsellor with the Canadian Society of Nutrition Management.

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