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Health Advice

July 31, 2012

Make smart choices when eating out

Wonder where all those extra calories are coming from? Have you considered how often you eat away from home? 

Of course, high-calorie meals can be made right in your own kitchen, but most restaurant choices are surprisingly steep in calories. 

Consider: One frozen coffee drink can have more than 500 calories; a large order of fast-food fries contains about 500 calories; a half-dozen battered and fried chicken wings has about 600 calories; and a grilled oriental chicken salad can have 1,500 calories.

Eating at a restaurant can be a great treat, but many meals are large portions and high in fat and sodium. If you truly eat out rarely and are conscientious about your food choices at home, you can splurge at an eatery. But many of us eat out frequently, especially if you consider buying lunch, take out and fast food.

Not having to plan and prepare the meal seems like a bonus. However, if you simply order whatever sounds good, you cannot control ingredients, and you are not really considering the balance of the meal. For example, at home you may decide to bake your breaded chicken and use skinless breast meat, while a restaurant will typically fry the chicken and may not use the leanest cut. At home, it might seem reasonable to pair your baked chicken with a steamed vegetable or a salad and use a light dressing for flavor. At a restaurant, the chicken will often be paired with fries and ketchup. These discrepancies in preparation will result in huge differences in calories.

Some tips to help combat these challenges include maintaining a balance, choosing lower-fat options, controlling portions and simply knowing the facts.

BALANCE

When deciding what to eat, reference the United States Department of Agriculture’s My Plate illustration. 

According to the initiative, half of your plate should contain fruits and vegetables. An easy choice at most restaurants is to order a side salad. A typical side salad with light dressing has fewer than 100 calories (remember the number of calories the large order of fries had?). 

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