Let’s Meet for Dinner

by karen on October 18, 2018

Sometimes I feel like it’s become a national pastime to eat out, and most of us eat out a lot, and for many different reasons: the ease and convenience, because we like a restaurant’s cooking better than our own, we never learned to cook, or for social reasons. I mean, when was the last time you met a friend or family member and it didn’t involve food? We meet for business as well, so when we factor in all of these reasons, eating at home and having a home-cooked meal may be going by the wayside.

According to recent research, six in 10 Americans ate dinner out at least once in the past week, and almost 20% of us are frequent diners, meaning we eat dinner out three or more times each and every week. From a nutrition standpoint, the challenge of eating out is avoiding too many calories, too much fat and saturated fat (leads to inflammation and many health conditions including obesity, heart disease and Alzheimer’s), and too much salt.

On average, a restaurant meal contains 1,200 calories—one half to two-thirds of a person’s typical daily recommendation. It also packs in 150% of the salt and 90% of the saturated fat and fat recommended for the entire day, not just that one meal.  Factor in several meals eaten out a day, 3 to 4 days a week, and it’s easy to see why we have the poor health epidemic that we do.

5 Tips to Lessen the Impact of Eating Out

Read the calories on the menu

Once you’ve gotten over the shock of the numbers you’re looking at and the dismay of just how many calories could possibly be in that meal, and if you still plan to order a meal, try to keep your choice to something that will give you about one third of your day’s needs. Most women would do well to eat around 500 calories in that meal and men, 700.

Cut your portions in half (or thirds or quarters)

You’re likely not going to find a lot to choose from in that calorie range, but remember, you can also take the monster-sized portion and make 2 or more meals from it, and in that way, put your calories back on target. If you’re eating half the portion, you’re closer to 75% of your day’s salt and 50% of your day’s fat and saturated fat intake, better than average.

Potato, Potatoes, Fried, Home Fries, Cottage Fries

Pile on the veggies

Unless it’s tempura style, every vegetable is a healthy, low calorie, nearly sodium free and fat free food choice (avocado and coconut are fruits and almost pure fat). Choose a meal with a veggie base like stir-fry, double your portion of veggie or swap a calorie-, salt-, fat-laden side like fries for a side salad.  Ask for light dressing on the side and any one of these veggie choices could reduce your calorie intake for the meal by half.

Salad, Fresh, Food, Diet, Health, Dieting, Meal

 Avoid the white sauces and gravies

Sauces and gravies can add several hundred calories or more to a food choice.  The calories in Olive Garden’s Alfredo sauce are 600 per serving (does not include the pasta, chicken or any other ingredients in the dish), while the marina has 140. That’s almost a 500 calorie savings in simply choosing a different sauce. If you’re saying, “But the Alfredo is my favorite”, remember, you can feed a family of four from one Olive Garden meal (or at least have lunch the next day), and you can choose marinara or meat sauce (300 calories) most of the time, saving the loaded Alfredo for a special occasion. Or you could cut down on a breadstick or two, as each one is equal to two pieces of bread and contains 140 calories.

Keep to the meal

Sugary or alcoholic beverages, appetizers, sides, and dessert can honestly bring restaurant meals to many day’s worth of calories, salt, fat and saturated fat. Minimize your calories outside of the entree selection, make a lower calorie entree choice with a veggie base and without cream sauce, have the other half of the meal later in the week, and you’re well on your way to eating out without putting one foot in the grave. If this gives you reason to pause and start cooking at home more often, stay tuned for next week’s blog, where we’ll talk about the basics of home-cooked meals.



Karen Fisher, MS, RDN, CDE is a dietitian in Reno, Nevada, happily promoting the benefits of healthy foods at her nutrition consulting firm, Nutrition Connection. Find her website at www.NutritionConnectionNV.com

Previous post:

Next post: