Who doesn’t like to go out to eat? Fun, good food and so many places to choose from. But, eating out can lead to lots of calories, sodium and too much fat in our diets. How can one enjoy eating out without loading on the calories and fat? Are there healthier menu options to choose from? In their November 2016 issue, Consumer Reports has a great articles on Dining Out: Where America Eats and How to Eat Healthier at Restaurant Chains. They note how much money we spend on eating out, a lot. On fast food, Americans spend $262 billion a year and on sit down table service restaurants, $206 billion. The article focused on rating the restaurants but also contained great advice on healthier menu options at America’s most popular table-service restaurants.
What should consumers do BEFORE they go out to eat? Most restaurants have their menus published online and most provide detailed nutrition information. Take a little time, choose what you like from the menu and then check out calories, amount of fat, and sodium in these choices. Focus on ways to cut back on the calories and the fat. It is very hard to reduce the sodium when eating out but at least by comparing some menu options you can at least reduce the amount of sodium in the meal.
The nutrition experts at Consumer Reports studied menus for 5 top restaurants and came up with some healthier options to choose. Their goal was to choose menu options with about a third of the day’s calories, fat and sodium.
Some suggestions they make:
1. Choose “light” – many restaurants offer light options with less calories and fat.
a. Cheesecake factory has a SkinnyLicious menu up to 40 options.
b. Applebee’s – choose their Lighter Fare dishes
c. Cracker Barrel – choose from their Wholesome Fixin’s menu options
d. Olive Garden – choose Lighter Italian Fare meals
e. IHOP – choose Simple & Fit
2. Don’t be Fooled
a. Salads – may not be the “lighter” choice. Loading a salad with creamy dressing can result in a salad having more calories than a hamburger.
The article’s example: Applebee’s Oriental Grilled Chicken salad sounds low calorie but has 1,290 calories. You are better off choosing the Classic Burger for 780 calories.
b. Eggplant Parmigiana at Olive Garden – you would think this would be a healthier dish than the Chicken Parmigiana but chose either as they have the same calories, a whopping 1,060 calories.
c. Omelets – forgo the Bacon Temptation Omelet at IHOP which has 1,080 calories. The Garden Omelet sounds like a better option but it is also high providing 840 calories.
3. Watch the sodium
a. So many restaurant meals are super HIGH in sodium. The recommended intake is 2300 mg a day. Given how high restaurant meals are in sodium it is not surprising the average intake of sodium is 3,400 mg a day. Sauces and dressings can have a lot of sodium. When ordering a salad, request the dressing on the side. Review the menus online to see which menu options have less sodium.
Next week we’ll look at healthier menu items to order at popular table-service restaurants.