Published on 03/12/09

Healthy strategies to survive eating out

By Connie Crawley
University of Georgia

Do you eat out frequently? If so, you are probably eating more fat and calories than you realize. Many restaurant meals are filled with calories and fat. But heeding a few healthy strategies can make eating away from home less harmful to your health and waistline.

Know what you want before you go in. If you walk in hungry, without any idea what you want to eat, you will be more likely to order high-fat and high-sugar food. Instead, either go online to view the menu or have the restaurant fax a menu to you before you arrive. Then decide what you plan to eat before you go. Order first so you will not be tempted by what your companions choose.

Have it your way. Ask the person waiting on you how the food is prepared before you order it. Sometimes you can request that a menu item be prepared differently, like grilled instead of fried or without added salt. Often sauces and condiments like ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise can be omitted or at least served on the side so you can control the amount added. Some restaurants now allow a steamed vegetable or salad with low-calorie dressing to be substituted for fries, chips or coleslaw.

Curb a ravenous appetite. You will eat less if you do not go to the restaurant too hungry. Eating a light snack like fruit, low-fat yogurt or a few crackers an hour before you arrive at the restaurant can help take the edge off your appetite. If you cannot do that, fill up with a glass of water, a broth-based soup or a salad before eating the rest of your meal.

Share a meal. Many restaurants serve huge portions. Sharing a meal is a good way to save calories and money. Some restaurants will even divide a meal onto two plates if you ask them. Otherwise, ask for an extra plate. If you think it will not be enough, order soup or salad, too. If you are eating alone, take the extra food home or ask if a smaller portion is available.

Fill the doggie bag before you eat. In fact, it will be easier to control your intake if you request that a take-home container be brought when the entrée arrives. Then you can divide the serving before you dig in.

Add to a meal. Fruits and vegetables are often not plentiful on restaurant menus. You may want to supplement a meal, particularly if you order takeout. It is easy to add a shelf-stable box of milk, a piece of fruit, some sliced raw vegetables, a salad or a cup of vegetable soup from home.

Pack a meal from home sometimes. Finally, consider not eating out as often. You can bring leftovers from home, a lower-calorie frozen entrée, a hearty soup or stew made previously in large quantities and frozen in smaller packages, salads or even a sweet or Irish potato that you pop in the microwave and top with low-fat shredded cheese, chili or mixed vegetables. Doing this will not only help you save calories and money, but will give you some time to enjoy a walk before your lunch break is over.

(Connie Crawley is a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension nutritionist with UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences.)

Connie Crawley is a nutrition and health specialist with University of Georgia Extension.