Published on 02/18/04

Making healthy choices when eating out

By Morgan Roan
University of Georgia

It's often hard to eat healthy when dining out. But healthy eating has become top priority for many Americans. And fast- food and other restaurants are becoming much more careful about limiting the fat content of the dishes they serve.

"Go to the Web site of chain restaurants and look at the nutrition information for menu items before you go," said Connie Crawley, an Extension Service nutrition and health specialist with the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

"Knowing what you want before you go," she said, "lessens the risk that you'll order a less healthy item when you arrive."

If you want to dine out and eat healthy, follow a few tips to adhere to your low-fat diet.

Ask your server for the list of ingredients and the preparation method for dishes you're not familiar with.

Ask your server to replace high-fat ingredients with more heart- healthy choices. For example, you may be able to substitute steamed vegetables or fruit salad for french fries.

When ordering a salad or pasta, ask for the dressing or sauce to be served on the side. This will allow you to control the amount you add to the dish.

When ordering pasta dishes, look for tomato-based sauces rather than cream-based sauces. They're much lower in fat and calories.

You can also request that the chef remove the skin from poultry dishes. If it's not possible, do this yourself before enjoying your meal.

When ordering grilled fish or vegetables, ask that the food either be grilled without butter or oil or prepared "light," with little oil or butter.

Ask for salsa with a baked potato instead of other toppings such as sour cream, butter, cheese or bacon. Salsa is very low in calories and a healthy alternative.

Order sandwiches with mustard rather than mayonnaise. Mustard adds flavor and contains very few calories.

Look for foods on the menu that are baked, grilled, dry- sautéed, broiled, poached or steamed. These cooking techniques use less fat in the food preparation and are generally lower in calories.

Choose foods made with whole grains such as whole-wheat bread and brown rice.

If you want a dessert, choose low-fat options like sorbet, fresh berries or fruit.

Stop eating when you're full. Listen to the cues your body gives you.

Drink water, diet soda or unsweetened tea or coffee instead of regular soda or alcoholic beverages. This will save a lot of calories each day.

These suggestions will help you make healthy decisions you won't regret later.

Here a few healthy choices if you eat at these restaurants:

LongHorn Steakhouse: Sierra Chicken; Flo's Filet; LongHorn salmon; grilled shrimp.

Chili's Grill and Bar: "Guiltless" menu; Margarita grilled chicken; lettuce wraps.

McDonald's: Grilled chicken Caesar salad with low-fat vinaigrette dressing; Egg McMuffin; hamburger; Chicken McGrill (without mayo); side salad with low- fat vinaigrette dressing; vanilla reduced-fat ice cream cone.

Wendy's : Grilled chicken sandwich with a side salad and fat-free dressing; Junior hamburger with a side salad and fat-free dressing; large chili with a side salad and fat-free dressing; plain baked potato and a small chili.

Subway : Any of the seven subs with 6 grams of fat or less; Atkins Friendly Wraps.

"If you can't order one of these lower-fat items, at least consider sharing a meal or snack containing more fat and calories with a meal partner, or put half of the food into a ... take-home box before you dig in," Crawley said.

"Even these healthier menu items may be more food than you need to eat at one time," she said. "Make sure your stomach capacity determines how much you will eat, not your eyes."

(Morgan Roan is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Morgan Roan is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.