Dining out? Put focus on friends over food

chow_042216-86530086Now that spring is here, I seem to be going out for dinner with friends a lot more often. I have already gained five pounds. Besides choosing a salad as my main dish, what else can I do to be sure I don’t overeat when eating out?

First, don’t assume that all salads are necessarily lower in calories than other choices on the menu. A quick Internet search of nutrition information for one restaurant chain showed its entree-sized salads ranged from 440 calories for a salad featuring seared tuna to 1,510 calories for a Caesar salad with chicken.

Unfortunately, it’s often not easy to determine what would be the healthiest option or figure out what items have a reasonable number of calories. Rules requiring restaurant chains to include nutrition information on menus, in the works since 2010, have been delayed until next year at the earliest. And even then, they won’t cover independently owned restaurants and smaller chains.

There’s also a psychological hurdle: When you join with friends to enjoy a meal together, it’s easy to switch into “special occasion” mode and treat yourself to items you wouldn’t necessarily choose every day. But if you’re eating out more often, you need to be careful not to indulge every time.

Here are some tips from the Association of Nutrition and Dietetics (eatright.org) and the National Institutes of Health (medlineplus.gov):

  • Prepare ahead. If you know you’ll be eating out later, have a small, healthy breakfast and lunch, and a light snack — such as an orange, a small apple or a handful of baby carrots, and a full glass of water — before you leave for the restaurant. And if you know where you’ll be dining, check the restaurant’s website to see if you can find nutrition information ahead of time.
  • Watch portion sizes. Dietitians have long advised clients who are trying to lose weight to eat only half of what is served to them and take the other half home for another meal. Now, some say that even half of the oversized portions served at many restaurants might be too much. When you get your food, visualize what a sensible serving size would be, and eat only that much.
  • Look on the menu for items for seniors, which are often smaller portions, or those designated as healthful choices. Don’t overlook those options thinking they’re not for you.
  • Include a simple side salad with an oil-based or light dressing. Avoid creamy dressings. Ask for dressing on the side, and don’t use all of it.
  • Choose foods that indicate they are broiled, grilled, steamed, poached, roasted or baked, which tend to have fewer calories. Words that indicate an item has more calories include breaded, fried, buttered, battered, crispy, creamy and au gratin.
  • Watch the alcohol, which adds calories and may increase your appetite and lower your resolve to eat healthfully.
  • Finally, enjoy yourself, knowing you are mindfully making the right choices while savoring the company of good friends.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, food security specialist with Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Eat healthfully when dining out

154225000I’ve been trying to lose some weight, but lately I’ve been eating out a lot, both for business and pleasure. How can I keep eating healthfully at restaurants?

It can be a challenge to keep calories under control when eating out. Portion sizes tend to be big, and, if nutrition information isn’t available, items that sound healthful on the menu may not be so in reality.

However, with a little planning and determination, you can stay on track and keep shedding pounds, even while dining out. Here are a few tips:

  • If you know where you’ll be eating, look online for a menu to review ahead of time. This will help in case you find yourself caught up in conversation and not able to study the menu carefully once you get to the restaurant.
  • While you’re online, see if nutrition information is available, either on the restaurant website or a weight loss or fitness website. It’s not always possible to find, but it’s worth investigating since most chain restaurants publish this information.
  • Don’t assume that salad is your best option. With high-calorie dressings, croutons, cheese, fried chicken or other fried toppings, salads can easily put you overboard on calories if you’re not careful.
  • Look for lean protein — chicken, fish, or lean pork or beef — that hasn’t been fried or smothered in sauce. Entrees that are baked, broiled, grilled or stir-fried are your best options.
  • With pasta, choose tomato or marinara sauce instead of cream or cheese sauces. Opt for a dish that doesn’t have cheese as a primary ingredient. If the server offers to add freshly grated cheese on your entree, you can control the amount.
  • If your meal comes with a side, order a salad or vegetable without butter. If it comes with two sides and there’s only one healthy option that sounds appealing, ask for a double order of that item.
  • Before you head out, you might want to eat a small portion of lean protein (possibly a high-protein drink or bar) to help you feel satiated and avoid overeating at the restaurant.
  • If the portion size is large, ask for a take-home container immediately. Then remove half of the meal from your plate so you aren’t tempted to polish it off.
  • Watch the beverages. Stick with ice water, diet soda or unsweetened iced tea. Limit alcoholic beverages to one at most.

You can enjoy your time dining out and make healthy choices at the same time. Don’t forget your decision to eat a healthy diet when you step through the restaurant door.