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Eating healthy while dining out

Published in Pediatrics, For the Health of It Author: Ally Doerfler, RD, LD

Everybody goes out to eat once in a while, whether it is out of convenience as you are running from soccer practice to piano practice without time to cook, or if you are celebrating a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary. Although restaurants have come a long way over the past few years and are aiming to make their menu items healthier, it still can be difficult to choose the best option for yourself and your children. Here are a few tips to consider as you are dining out:

  • Beverages: Ask for water or order fat-free or low-fat milk as a beverage choice to avoid the added sugar found in numerous fountain beverages.
  • Fruits & Veggies: Order a salad to start as a way to fill up on vegetables before the main entrée arrives. Search for main dishes that include vegetables such as stir-fries or kabobs, or choose plain meats with vegetable or fruit side dishes.
  • Portions: Always choose smaller portions when available. If an appetizer portion is available that may be the perfect size, otherwise you can share an entrée with a friend or take leftovers home for later. If you are choosing to save leftovers, set half your food aside right away so you are not tempted to overindulge or ask your server to box half your meal up before it arrives to the table. Listen closely to your hunger-satiety cues and stop eating when you are full.
  • Types of foods: Order entrée and side items that are steamed, baked, broiled or grilled versus those that are fried or sautéed. Avoid foods with creamy sauces or gravies, add little or no butter and if dessert is necessary, you can always choose fruits.
  • Plan ahead for snacks: Always be prepared when you leave the house. Pack fresh fruit, re-cut vegetables, low-fat string cheese sticks or unsalted nuts to avoid stopping for unhealthy snacks.

Eating at a sit down restaurant may offer you more plentiful healthy options, however even when eating out a fast food restaurant, you can make a better choice for yourself and your child. Try some of the additional tips outlined below when choosing fast food meals.

  • Swap one unhealthy item for a healthier option. For example, choose water or an unsweetened beverage over soda, or substitute French fries for some fruit or a salad.
  • As a rule, include fruits and vegetables with every meal by ordering a side salad, adding lettuce, tomato, and onion to sandwiches, topping burgers with mushrooms and onions, or adding apple slices to your meal.
  • Always choose grilled meats over your breaded or crispy option.
  • Choose whole wheat bread for sandwiches when available and whole grain crust when ordering pizza.

Vegetables and pineapple are the best toppings for pizza. Healthier meat choices include Canadian bacon or chicken. Avoid additional cheese or cheese filled crusts and always order a smaller size. Ordering a medium instead of a large will save you about 60 calories per slice.