Let me guess! It’s convenient, social and very tasty! Commercials lure you into the belly of this beast all day long. And regardless of its cost (and there are many!), you partake more often than you’d like to admit: dining out!
A National Pastime
Whether you’re busy still working or “busy” enjoying retirement, many people look forward to a meal outside the home. In fact, the average American buys a restaurant meal, snack or drink about 4.5 times per week (one-third of their caloric intake). And a 2015 report showed that we’re spending more money on dining out than we do on groceries.
But At What Cost?
• More than one-third of US adults are obese.
• According to the CDC, almost half have at least one major risk factor for heart disease or stroke: uncontrolled high blood pressure or high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, or are current smokers.
• 90% consume too much sodium.
• More than one-quarter of adults over age 65 have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.
And all of these problems are related to diet.
An Exercise in Excess
When I go to a new restaurant, I always peruse the nutrition information for lower-calorie selections. And it’s often difficult to find a regular meal that’s under 500.
But a recent article published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found it’s even worse than I thought–more than 90% of restaurants serve entrees that exceed the recommended calorie limit for a single meal. Meals in general averaged around 1,200 calories, with American, Italian and Chinese food coming in at a whopping 1,495!
Considering the average woman eats about 2,000 calories per day, and men consume 2,500, you can see how quickly the pounds can start to add up!
In addition to calories, there are other health concerns when dining out–preparation style, freshness, amount and type of added fat and salt and huge portion sizes!
What’s A Hungry Consumer To Do?
The first thing I advise my clients is to dine in as often as possible–it’s cheaper and you can control the healthfulness of the food.
But life happens, you get tired, your kids invite you to join them for dinner. So go out and enjoy a great fare and social happening, but keep these guidelines in mind for healthy restaurant meals:
• Check the nutrition information on the menu. Restaurant chains with 20 or more locations are required to provide this.
• Order off the kids’ menu (easy at a fast-food restaurant but possible at a sit-down chain)
• Split a meal two ways (or three!)
• Order an appetizer, soup, salad or side dish.
• Ask to have your food customized: no sauces or added cheese, butter or sour cream; grilled meats or fish instead of fried or breaded; find a substitute for fries or chips.
• Skip dessert or steal a few bites from your spouse.
• If all else fails, ask for a doggie bag to be brought to the table with your meal, and put half of it in the container before you start to eat.
How do you handle your biggest food nightmare? I’d love to hear below.