When pressed for nutritional information, some servers at your favorite eateries will begrudgingly serve up a few numbers. The sad fact is many sit-down restaurants simply do not have that info available.
So what's a determined dieter to do? Stick with boring old baked chicken and steamed veggies or throw caution to the wind and order whatever you want with the hopes that "it can't be that bad."
Sorry, but it can be that bad... and even worse than you imagined.
Making the Best Choices
Diet-to-Go wants you to be prepared the next time you dine out. That's why we turned to nationally-known dietitian and diabetes expert Hope Warshaw, author of Eat Out, Eat Right.
Hope's mission is to educate us on the best choices available at our favorite fast food joints and sit-down restaurants.
"More and more, restaurant eating is simply a part of our daily life," Hope says. "The numbers show that on average we eat five meals a week in restaurants... with lunch the most common meal out.
Hope's 10 skills and strategies for dining out
These general skills and strategies can be applied to just about any restaurant eating situation - whether eating in or taking out.
1. Develop a healthy mindset and a can-do attitude
Developing a healthy mindset and having a can-do attitude about eating healthier restaurant meals is your critical first step. Until you accomplish this first step, you'll have a difficult time putting the other nine skills and strategies, which follow here, into action.
Think about steps you can take to develop a healthier mindset about restaurant meals. Ask yourself what changes you need to make to find a balance between continuing to enjoy restaurant dining while you order and eat healthier foods. Be kind to yourself. These changes will take some time and a repertoire of positive experiences.
2. Assess the whens, whys, wheres, and whats of your restaurant meals
Choose restaurants that make it easier for you to eat healthfully. Reality is that you can choose to eat healthfully in 95 percent of restaurants. Some menus just make it easier than others. Steer clear of some of your favorite restaurants in which you typically ate unhealthy meals and the healthy pickings are slim. Take, for example, a fried chicken or fish-and-chips restaurant.
4. Think through your action plan
5. Be an avid fat detector
Dodging the fats in restaurants is a big challenge. Fat adds significant calories without adding any food volume (or "bites"). A great example is a medium baked potato containing about 100 calories. Add to that one teaspoon of regular butter or margarine at 50 calories or two tablespoons of regular sour cream at 50 calories. You've added another 100 calories without adding any bites.
6. Order with healthy eating goals top of mind
Look to integrate more fruits and vegetables and lighten up on the portion of meat and fats.
7. Practice portion control from the get-go
Large portions are a fact of restaurant dining. You'll need to outsmart the menu to cut portions down to a healthy size. A successful strategy is to control portions from the point of ordering. This means less food will be in front of you and you'll eat less. Think of this as the "out of sight, out of mind (or mouth)" technique. It's a lot more difficult to control the amount you eat if food is just a forkful away.
Steer clear of menu descriptions that mean large portions - jumbo, grande, supreme, extra large, king size, double, triple, feast, or combo.
To eat healthfully and to eat reasonable portions, you'll need to be creative with menus. For example, no rule says you must order an entree. Mix and match items from the soups, salads, appetizers and side dishes. There are countless ways to combine these to eat smaller portions. Another winner: Split portions with your dining partner. Go ahead, order from soup to dessert, but split everything down the middle.
9. Order foods as you need and want them
Special requests are a key to being served dishes as you like (and want or need) them. A special request might mean asking for an ingredient to be left off, such as cheese, bacon, or sour cream. Or it may be a substitution: baked potato rather than French fries or potato chips; or to spread mustard rather than mayonnaise on a sandwich. It's important to take the attitude that there's no harm in asking and the worst someone can say is NO.
10. Know when to say ENOUGH!
You already know that portion control is a key to healthier restaurant meals. Control portions from the start by ordering creatively. If the portions are huge, request a take-home container and immediately set aside the portion to take home. If that feels uncomfortable in some situations, separate the portion you don't want to eat and place it on a small plate and offer "tastes" to your dining companions or just move it to the side of your plate.
"If you have the will, you can do it. You simply need to develop a healthy mindset and healthy attitude about eating."