Eating Healthy When Eating Out

Over the last several decades, an odd thing has been happening… Our food portion sizes have grown! In restaurants and in our homes, we have gone from plates to platters…from glasses to tumblers…and from reasonable serving sizes to “super” sizes! For instance, in the 1970s, a typical fast food meal consisted of a hamburger (small by today’s standards), a 12 ounce soda, and a small order of fries. That is now labeled as a meal for very young children, and adults are eating more. However, these food portions were then, and still are, adult servings! So we are feeding toddlers adult portions and adults are quite simply overeating! We have become used to these “super” sizes and this has added to our obesity and health problems, like diabetes and heart disease.

Here are some tips for cutting down on portion sizes and eating healthier when eating out.

  • First of all, limit eating out to 1-2 times a week, less if possible. Eating homemade meals at home is usually a healthier option.
  • Select low fat (like fruit or vegetable) appetizers instead of chips, bread or fried foods like cheese sticks. These appetizers can add A LOT of extra calories if you don’t watch your intake. Also many appetizers can work just fine as your whole meal!
  • Look for menu items with smaller portions, or ask for half size portions. Many restaurants, including fast food establishments, have smaller meals, but these are not always on the menu…so ASK!
  • Choose baked meats instead of fried (baked chicken vs. fried chicken).
  • Choose non-fried and/or non-starchy vegetables for sides, including steamed or baked veggies.
  • Salads can be a very good option for sides or as a meal, but watch out for too much dressing and high fat meats/eggs/cheeses in excess. Use a minimal amount of dressing and choose healthier toppings like grilled chicken instead of fried or breaded chicken.
  • Limit the servings of bread or grains and starchy vegetables (like tortillas, rice, pasta or potatoes) to 2-4 servings per meal. A serving is one slice of bread or ½ bun, one 6 inch tortilla, or ½ cup rice/pasta/potatoes. Don’t forget the chips or bread you ate as the appetizer! They count!
  • Choose WATER instead of soda. Water and milk are also better options for children.
  • Share a meal instead of ordering separate meals. Especially for children!
  • Get a take home box or “doggie bag”. It’s a good idea to ask for this before you start eating. Put half of the meal away before you start!
  • Use the calorie counts and other nutrition information now available in many restaurants. Limit meals to 500-800 calories. This is plenty for most people! Think of 1/3 of your daily calorie needs. Most people need between 1500-2400 calories a day.
  • Most of all, DO NOT SUPERSIZE!!!! EVER!!!!

To see how much our portion sizes have grown over time and what this means, visit https://www.choosemyplate.gov/tools-portion-distortion and take a look at the Portion Distortion slides and quiz!

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