MASTER THE MENU
December 22, 2014
If you are tired of cooking, pressed for time, or traveling and plan to eat at least one meal out, you may need some help deciding what to order so that all the hard work you have put into maintaining your current weight this season doesn't go up in smoke. Fortunately, we have some proven strategies for helping you approach the table (or booth) with confidence—even if you're eating buffet-style.
While cooking a healthy and nutritious meal at home is the best way to control what goes into your mouth, dining out and ordering in are as much a part of the holidays as putting up a tree and listening to your favorite tunes. In fact, 58 percent of American adults now say they dine out at least once a week, according to a Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. As nice as it is to leave the dishwashing to someone else, every meal away from home increases an adult's average daily calorie count by about 135 calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That means if you eat out five times a week, you stand to gain up to 10 pounds a year. How do you make the best possible choices when ordering off a menu? Focus on before so you won't regret your choicest after. Here's how being proactive can pay off:
BEFORE YOU GO OUT
- Look up the menu online. The Restaurant Nutrition app for iPhone can help you locate healthy restaurants in the area and also provides nutritional information on the menu items. Try to find the meal that looks closest to the Balanced Plate at choosemyplate.gov. Research from Duke University suggests that if those around you order large portions, you'll tend to do the same—all the more reason to decide what you plan to eat ahead of time when you aren't starving or influenced by others' choices.
- When scanning menu options, decide on one indulgence per meal: an alcoholic beverage, an appetizer or a dessert. These three can contain and add the most calories to a meal, so knowing before you go which you're most in the mood for is a smart strategy.
- Wear a belt. It sounds silly, but a belt can be your best friend when you're trying to keep from overdoing it because it helps you keep your priorities in mind throughout the meal.
BEFORE YOU ORDER
- Tell your server you do not want a bread basket or chips on the table. (Out of sight, out of mind!) If others insist, make sure the basket is well out of arm's reach.
- While it may be tempting to order a festive cocktail, particularly if everyone else at the table is having one, try waiting until your meal arrives to have a glass of wine because drinking with food slows down the rate that alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream. You're also likely to drink more slowly if you're eating a meal at the same time. In the meantime, toast the season with a red-and-green mocktail: Order club soda with a splash of cranberry juice or grenadine and a lime wedge.
- While daily specials can be tempting, listen for language that signals foods high in fat and calories, including "breaded," "crispy," "fried," "pan-seared" or any item with "cream" or "cream sauce." If you hear the word "sauteed," ask if the chef can use little or no oil. Even better, request "grilled," "steamed" or "broiled without butter."
BEFORE YOU DIG IN
- Have a green salad or a cup of soup or so you're not overly hungry when the entree arrives. No matter what ethnicity the restaurant, chances are there's a broth-based soup on the menu that won't set you back too many calories. Ordering Chinese? Try egg-drop; Japanese: miso; Greek: Egg-lemon; Indian: Curried lentil. At a diner, chicken soup with veggies is always a good bet, since it contains lots of healthy nutrients and increases hydration. Feeling a little under the weather? Research from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha attempted to determine why chicken soup might help colds and found that the soup inhibited the movement of neutrophils, the most common type of white blood cell that defends against infection.
- Ask the server for a "to-go" container as soon as your meal arrives so you can put half to the side and enjoy what's left on your plate! (Bonus: You'll leave the restaurant with tomorrow's lunch in hand.)
- If you choose to have a dessert, consider sharing it, or savor 3 bites and put down the fork or spoon. (Remember, it never tastes any better than those bites). You might also order fresh fruit, which makes a refreshing end to any meal.
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