It’s always fun to take a break from cooking and enjoy a night out at a restaurant. One of the drawbacks, however, is that you don’t always know how your meal was made or what all of the ingredients are. If you’re on a diet for weight or medical issues, this could be particularly detrimental. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to make healthy decisions while chowing down at your favorite restaurant.
The American Heart Association (AHA) offers some useful tips for restaurant dining:
- Choose the restaurant wisely: Try to avoid restaurants that offer all-you-can-eat buffets or specials, since you’re more likely to eat more food (and more calories) than you need.
- Start and finish strong: Steer clear of before-the-meal “extras” like cocktails, appetizers and bread with butter because these are often sources of extra fat, sodium and calories. Also, choose desserts carefully; fresh fruit, sherbet, gelatin and angel food cake are good alternatives to more traditional fatty, creamy desserts. You can also use fat-free milk in coffee instead of cream or half-and-half.
- If you’re going to eat fast food, at least be smart: Before ordering, find out the nutritional content of menu items by visiting the chain’s website or asking the cashier for a pamphlet. Avoid “value-size” or “super-size” items, sandwiches with double meat and deep-fried side dishes.
- The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) also has some great advice for restaurant guests:
- Enlist the help of your server: Your waiter or waitress can help you make smart choices. Ask if you can have dressings and sauces on the side, and skim milk instead of whole milk, for example.
- Learn how to read the menu: This means looking for healthier meals that are broiled, baked, roasted, poached, lightly sautéed or steamed in their own juices (au jus). In other words, avoid dishes with descriptions that include the words fried, au gratin, crispy, scalloped, pan-fried, buttered, creamed or stuffed, since these meals are likely high in fat and calories.
With the right knowledge and tools, it’s easy to make wise decisions. At www.heart.org, the AHA even offers tips based on cuisine (e.g., Cajun, Chinese, Greek) and type of restaurant (e.g., fast food, steakhouse). Visit the NHLBI at www.nhlbi.nih.gov for more information as well.