We love to travel and enjoy life away from home.
Part of that joy is the fun and variety of food that comes outside of our normal environment.
FACT 1: Most food dollars in the US are spent for food away from home.
FACT 2: “Away-from home foods contain more calories per eating occasion, higher levels of total fat and saturated fat, lower levels of fiber, calcium, and iron; and more sodium than foods prepared at home.” National Institutes of Health (NIH) It’s not all bad when you eat out. Without a plan of action, though, you’ll probably gain weight when you eat out frequently.
A few practiced skills make the difference in your overall health. If you can master eating well in this highly advertised, highly processed world…you will be healthier than most in this runaway obesity world. Don’t take this sitting down (gratuitous exercise reference), in addition to planning exercise sessions to burn more calories during your foray away from home, focused planning can turn your jaunt into a health-supporting holiday. Here’s how to choose health while eating out, thanks to our Office on Women’s Health:
• Look for healthier options without depriving yourself. Eating out can be a special occasion or a treat for many people. It’s okay to splurge at a restaurant every once in a while, if you eat healthy the rest of the week.
• Some restaurants make it easy to spot the healthier items with symbols like a small heart on the menu.
• Look for foods that are broiled, baked, roasted, or lightly sautéed instead of fried.
• Look for menu items that are low-sodium and ask your server about low-sodium options.
• If you pick a less healthy option like a burger or fried chicken, ask for a side salad instead of the fries.
• Make special requests. Ask for sauces, dips, and dressings on the side and for steamed vegetables instead of vegetables cooked with butter or sauce.
• Put half of your meal in a box to go right away. Or order a meal to share.
• Order a broth-based soup to start your meal. This will help you feel fuller without lots of extra calories or fat.
• Compare nutrition information for options at your favorite chain restaurants by checking out their menus online. You may also find nutrition information displayed on menus, posters, brochures, or tray liners.
• Don’t eat at fast-food restaurants several times a week. Fast-food restaurants are time-savers, but if you eat fast food several times a week, you likely pay later with health problems. When you do eat fast food, make smarter choices:
• Order your burger or sandwich on whole-wheat bread.
• Choose grilled instead of fried chicken or fish sandwiches.
• Do not order cheese or bacon on your sandwich.
• Load up with tomatoes and lettuce and be mindful about extra toppings like ketchup or mayonnaise, which can add unnecessary calories.
• Choose sweet potato fries instead of French fries.
• Order a side salad instead of fries.
• Order a small meal or a child’s meal to keep calories lower.
• Don’t go to “all-you- can-eat” restaurants and buffets. If you do go:
• Use the smallest plate possible.
• Try to fill up on healthier choices, like salads and vegetables.
• Keep your back to the buffet so that you are less tempted to go back for seconds.
• Don’t forget to take snacks on longer trips.
• Pack bags of unsalted nuts or popcorn.
• If possible, take cut-up veggies or whole fruit.
• Try refillable water bottles instead of sugary drinks like sodas or fruit drinks.
Extra credit tip: If you have to eat away from home, eat a piece of fruit (apple, anyone) before your meal. One serving of fibrous fruit can dramatically help your body process food, give you certain vitamins and minerals plus make you satisfied faster (perhaps helping you forgo the appetizer, the free bread and chips and/ or the dessert). Yes, you need to forgo all the free fries the burger chains are now offering…it’s a trap (“Come here, my lovely one”-Dracula). Consider these ways to manage your outside eating and enjoy your trip!
Mike Thompson is a health coach and writes about nutrition and amazing aging. He lives in Richmond Hill, is certified in exercise nutrition and founder of SelfCare Sustained. Reach him at MikeThompson@SelfCareSustained.com.