Healthy dine-out!

By: Nousheen Zeeshan
Consultant Registered Dietician
Pakistan Nutrition & Dietetic Society.

Whether it is a rushed fast-food meal, lunch in the company cafeteria with co-workers, an order of pizza, a casual family dinner at a restaurant or an elegant evening of fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere – eating out is no longer reserved for special occasions. It has become part of our life-style!  Hungry or not, when we dine-out food excites our senses. All of us enjoy eating out as it gives a chance to spend time with loved ones, socialize with friends and colleagues, experience flavors that are not prepared at home and above all to have fun!

Where do you typically eat out and how often? Whatever your answer, the more you eat away from home, the greater is the impact of outside meals and snacks on your overall food choices, health and well-being. The broad array of restaurants offers an explosion of dining-out options to choose from. These choices range from desi to fast food to continental cuisine. It is up to you to decide what foods to enjoy and how much. With a little forethought and menu savvy, the meals and the snacks you eat away from home can be great-tasting, enjoyable and healthful.

What are your eating-out challenges? How can your dine-out choices fit into your entire days’ eating plan without overdoing calories and fat? How can you enjoy the variety of tempting food available in different restaurants without worrying about your waist?  What food options can be considered if you are a frequent diner? No matter what and where you choose to eat and what troubles you the most while dining out – whether it is big portion of food, the urge to splurge, not having enough understanding about healthy eating, these smart and healthy dine-out tips can guide your eating:

  • Go with a “smart eating” mind-set, which will help you sort through the menu faster and avoid straying from your plan. If you have had a prior heavy meal then choose a place where you can have a light dinner or lunch.
  • Avoid skipping breakfast or lunch to “save-up” for a fancy restaurant dinner. It is easy to overindulge at the restaurant when you are over-hungry. Eating small meals earlier in the day is a better approach. If you know ahead that your eat-out meals will have more calories or fat then cut back on calories and fat in other meals that day.
  • Many restaurants offer portions like half portion, medium portion and full portion. Choose the portion size carefully. Go for the smaller portion; you’ll save on calories and fat. If the portion is too much for you then split the dish with someone else or simply have the dish packed for take-home. Almost every restaurant has take-away containers.
  • If you have your meals in a restaurant or a cafeteria on a routine basis then, try to balance your nutrient intake by choosing different foods each day. For example, if you are having some form of pasta today, then, choose the option of dal or sabzi for the next day. Do not stick to one kind of meat. Sometimes, people only pick one particular dish which they enjoy most like beef steaks, fried fish or shrimp biryani; try to keep altering the choice of meat that you are eating.
  • Try to choose a meal with food variety when you eat out. If you choose a higher fat entrée, balance it with a low fat side dish and a dessert. For example balance “Meat lasagna” or “Lahori fried fish” with fresh fruits. Remember that no food is off-limits. Just make trade-offs: if you eat food with more salt and calories when you dine-out, cut back on such foods at home.
  • Cannot resist the served chips, crackers and cheese sticks when you are seated? The best way is to take a few and then move them or simply ask to have them removed from the table. It is not necessary to finish the whole basket. Also go easy on dips and sauces; they have a high salt content.
  • Did you know? A do-it-yourself salad, chosen from the salad bar, often has more calories than burger, fries, shake or a steak. A salad bar plate can top out more than 500 calories, depending on your choices and proportions. Where do excessive amount of calories, fat and salt come from? Not from the lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and other fresh veggies. Regular salad dressings, croutons, cheese, noodles, creamy sauces can heap calories when they are added to raw veggies. The best ways to control calories, fat and salt in your salad is to have more portions of raw veggies, fruits and beans and go easy on higher-fat toppings and mayonnaise based salads.
  • If you have a prior health problem like heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure or if you are overweight, then try to choose more grilled, baked or bar-b-que foods rather than going for “Biryanis” and “Karhais”.
  • Last but not the least, enjoy the food. Whether you eat with others or dine alone, savor each bite and relish the flavor and aroma of the food rather than mindless gorging. Eat slowly and stop eating before you feel too full, as this was also the way of Prophet Muhammad (saw).

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