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Making Healthy Choices When Eating Out

Students splitting pizzaEating on the go has become part of the American routine. Unfortunately, most fast food and restaurant dishes are loaded with calories, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. While it may look like a losing battle, there are some strategies that can help you order healthier foods when you are eating out.

Here are some ways to make better menu choices:

  • Check the online nutrition facts before you go. Both fast food and popular chain restaurants often publish nutrition information about their menu items on their Web sites. Check these guides out before you go so you will know which items fit your nutrition goals.
  • Read menu descriptions carefully. Even if a restaurant does not provide nutrition information, words like fried, braised, creamed, au gratin or escalloped often indicate that the dish contains a large amount of butter, cheese and oil. Look for items that are baked, broiled, steamed or grilled.
  • Look for the designated healthy options. Some restaurants will have a symbol or a special section on the menu to designate low-fat, low-cholesterol and low-sodium items to help you make smart choices.
  • Ask about substitutions. Sometimes a steamed vegetable, a side salad with light dressing, a baked potato or fresh fruit can be substituted for French fries or chips if you just ask the server.
  • Watch the portion sizes. Restaurants often serve double or triple the amount of food you would normally eat at home. Try ordering a “lunch” portion at dinner, splitting a meal with a friend or asking for a take-home box when your food arrives. Whatever you do, immediately remove half of the portion if it is large so you won’t be tempted to overindulge.

Special Considerations for Special Restaurants

  • Italian – Choose tomato sauces over alfredo or other creamy sauces, and skip the fried calamari and pastas stuffed with cheese. Ask for the salad dressing to be served on the side instead of already mixed in the salad, and don’t add more parmesan cheese to your entree or salad.
  • Mexican – Your best choices include black bean soup and grilled chicken or shrimp fajitas. Ask for the tortilla chips to be removed from the table and avoid the fried tacos, taco salad, nachos, refried beans, quesadillas and chimichangas.
  • Chinese – Choose steamed or stir-fried seafood, chicken, bean curd or vegetable dishes with steamed (not fried) rice. Other items high in fat and calories include fried egg rolls, egg drop soup, fried wontons, Lo Mein, Moo Shu pork or chicken, General Tso’s chicken, and sweet and sour pork. If you and your dinner partner plan to buy two dishes, order one vegetable dish and one chicken or seafood dish and share. Even then, you will probably have enough for two additional meals later.
  • Pizza – Pick a thin crust pizza and skip the meat. Ask for more vegetables to be added and less cheese. Have a salad on the side so you will eat less pizza.
  • Fast Food – Grilled chicken sandwiches or salads are usually your best bets. Omit the mayonnaise on the sandwich and ask for light or low-fat salad dressings for the salad. Also, select side items such as fruit, baked chips or a baked potato, which some chains now provide. Order water, low-fat milk, unsweetened tea or a diet soft drink.