Studies have shown Americans spend more money eating out than buying groceries to cook meals at home.1 People today are busy and cannot always find the time to prepare all their meals. During those busy days, most people are looking for convenience and easy, so restaurants and fast food chains become appealing. It can be easy to become lost in the long menus and specials, so here are some tips to help you make healthy decisions at restaurants.
Choose a restaurant beforehand and take a look at the menu to narrow down the options. You know the old mantra: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Doing a little homework ahead of time can eliminate the sensory overload we all experience once at a restaurant when it’s oh so easy to give up and give in.
- If the nutrition information is provided for the menu items, take a look at it. It is not required for all restaurants to provide this information but taking a peek at it can help since most of us tend to underestimate the calories, fat, and sodium found in food. Try and find the menu item that contains the highest amount of fiber. This will ensure you don’t miss out on a high fiber meal to meet your overall daily fiber goals of a minimum of 25-35 grams of fiber per day.
- Ask the wait staff about the size of the portions. It is hard to stop eating, even if you are full if there is still food on the plate.1If the portion seems to be large, see if someone in your party is willing to split. Or ask for a doggie bag when the meal arrives so you can portion off a reasonably sized portion for now and pack the rest up for another meal at home.
- Order the appetizer or salad and then wait to order the rest of the meal. You may be full after this and not need the extra food of an entree, since appetizers can be huge! Plus, ordering more food is no problem at restaurants.
- Substitute a vegetable or side salad for fries or other fried foods in a meal.
- Consider ordering a vegetarian entrée to keep the nutrient density of the meal high and to try new foods! You never know, you may be inspired to try new foods at home.
- Everyone loves dessert after a meal. Desserts at restaurants can be rich and heavy, so order one dessert for the table to split.