Eating on the Go
Healthy Habits for Healthy Living
Eating Out Healthfully
America has been called a “fast food nation” and for good reason. Every day, one out of four Americans eats fast food. If you are eating out, fast food restaurants are often the cheapest option, but unfortunately, not usually the healthiest one. Eating just one fast food meal can pack enough calories, sodium and fat for an entire day, but the quick-and-cheap temptation can be hard to resist.
By being an informed customer, you can make healthier choices and still enjoy the convenience of fast food restaurants. One way to do this is to plan ahead. Due to the federal health reform law passing in March 2010 restaurants with 20 or more locations are required to provide calorie data and additional nutritional information for menu items and self-service foods. This information is either posted on their website or available onsite upon asking or found in many pocket guides. But having this information available doesn’t necessarily guide individuals to making healthier choices. A recent study found that calorie postings alone did not give enough information to make healthier selections.
Two resources that offer a bit more direction in identifying healthier options are HealthyDiningFinder.com and Stop & Go Fast Food Guide, a free downloadable app.
The team at HealthyDiningFinder collaborated with thousands of restaurants to identify a selection of great-tasting dietitian-approved menu choices with accurate nutrition information. Their goal is to help empower Americans to enjoy dining out as part of a healthier lifestyle.
In the free version of The Stop & Go Fast Food Guide app, over 2,500 fast food items are color coded red, yellow and green to make it simple to select healthier choices at your favorite restaurants. Green means “go”; yellow coded foods are “exercise caution” and red means “hit the brakes”. Pretty straightforward.
Use these five simple tips to help guide you when dining out:
- Pay attention to the descriptions on the menu. Dishes labeled deep-fried, pan-fried, basted, batter-dipped, breaded, creamy, crispy, scalloped, Alfredo, au gratin or in cream sauce are usually high in calories, unhealthy fats or sodium.
- Drink water with your meals. Soda is a huge source of hidden calories. One 32-ounce cola beverage packs about 425 calories.
- Watch portion sizes. Choose a smaller portion size, order a side salad instead of fries, and don’t supersize anything. Many single serving entrees are large enough to take half home or split with a dining partner .
- Avoid buffets. You’ll likely overeat to get your money’s worth. If you do choose buffet dining, opt for fresh fruits, salads with olive oil and vinegar or low fat dressings, broiled entrees and steamed vegetables. Always wait at least 20 minutes after eating before making a repeat trip.
- Remember the big picture. Think of eating out in the context of your whole diet. Plan ahead by making adjustments to your meals earlier in the day and remember that moderation is key.
For those of you who have specific nutrition related questions, feel free to contact me at AskMarshDietitian@marsh.net.
|___||Mary Snell, MS RD CD
Director of Nutrition and Wellness