Healthy Restaurant & Takeout Meals
March is National Nutrition Month®, a time to learn more about creating nutritional strategies for better health.
In addition to other healthful eating strategies, including limiting added sugars and enjoying regular family meals, making wise choices when dining out is also important because of the frequency and popularity of consuming meals that are not prepared at home.
Prior to the pandemic, surveys suggested that most Americans dined out at least several times a week, and during the pandemic, many people have selected delivery options to enjoy takeaway meals at home. Although restaurant-prepared meals offer choice and convenience, they also generally have more fat, calories, sugar, and sodium than foods prepared at home. The different food groups tend not to be as balanced in the meal, and portions are too large.
The good news is that, with a little planning and by using healthy strategies, people can still enjoy the convenience of eating restaurant-prepared meals without sabotaging their health needs and goals. Read on to learn more about healthy strategies for dining out and our nutrition education materials that are perfect to help reinforce these strategies among patients, students, and clients.
Strategizing for Healthy Dining on Restaurant-Prepared Meals
How can you enjoy the convenience of eating out (or eating a restaurant-prepared meal at home) and still maintain good health? Start by keeping in mind some of the key dietary guidelines: Focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods from each food group, and stay within personal calorie limits. And, limit foods and beverages high in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. Being mindful of these guidelines and the USDA’s MyPlate nutrition guide, whether you are eating meals prepared at home or at a restaurant, is helpful in achieving better health.
different food groups and nutrient-dense foods.
Next, consider balance, moderation, and variety when choosing foods for each meal. Balancing a high-fat food with a low-fat food within a meal will help moderate fats in the meal overall. Balancing a high-sodium meal with other low-sodium meals throughout the day will help moderate sodium for the day. The same idea applies to meals eaten out during the week. Consuming a variety of foods on a daily basis provides necessary vitamins and minerals. Balancing food groups, maintaining moderate portion sizes, and choosing a variety of foods are important to healthy eating. Following healthy strategies like these at every step, whether for appetizers, entrees, fast food, or buffets, you can increase the chance for success.
Plan Healthy Strategies Before, During, and After the Meal
Before the Meal
Good planning is the secret ingredient for successful restaurant meals, whether consumed at a restaurant or for delivery for safe eating outside of restaurants. Planning allows you to select restaurants that have healthy alternatives. This is often overlooked when you make last-minute decisions. When trying new restaurants, always check online or ask for menu information. Many restaurants have nutrient analyses of menu items online, which can help you plan your order.
When planning to dine on restaurant-prepared meals, many people make the mistake of skipping meals to allow for “extra” calories or fat. Actually, this behavior can cause a person to become hungrier and eat extra amounts of foods high in fat, calories, or sodium. A healthier option is to eat regularly scheduled meals and to budget more fat or sodium for the meal eaten out. Fat or sodium may be budgeted over an entire day or over a few days. Another great idea is to plan a healthy snack just before going out to eat. These strategies will help prevent overeating of less nutritious foods.
to help students compare calorie, fat, and carb content of different foods.
Being assertive and requesting what you want for your meal is the most important part of making healthy choices when ordering. Ask for details about how foods are prepared, and request healthy cooking techniques.
Healthy menu options may be available but not advertised, and you can ask specifically for them. Fresh fruit and vegetables, juice, and fat-free milk are examples of items available in most restaurants but often not mentioned on the menu. Ask about the portion size of your order, and request a half order, if available.
Once you have the meal, you can make your meal enjoyable and healthy. First, be assertive and ensure that your order is prepared as requested. In addition, savor the flavors by eating slowly, which helps you feel full sooner. Enjoying the pleasures of a meal, such as your dining companions, conversation, and atmosphere, can also help.
After the Meal
Because most restaurant portions are twice the recommended size, remember to ask for takeout containers to save leftovers for a quick meal later. If you want dessert, look for items lower in fats and dietary sugars. Requesting a small takeout menu and making notes about food choices, quality, and quantity can be helpful for next time.
activities to teach portion control of different types of foods.
Consider Each Course
- Choose juice, coffee, hot tea, broth, fresh vegetables or fruit, or fat-free milk.
- Avoid or share fried finger food.
Entrée / Side Dish
- Choose broiled, baked, or steamed foods.
- Avoid cream sauces, cheese, and gravy.
- Request half portions or takeout containers.
- Ask for specific preparations, such as not using butter.
- Choose tea, coffee, or water with lemon.
- Request fat-free milk or fresh 100-percent juice.
- Use caution with alcoholic beverages. (Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram.)
how alcoholic beverages can pack on the extra pounds.
- Have dressing on the side.
- Choose fat-free dressings or lemon / vinegar.
- Avoid high-fat toppings and crackers.
- Choose fruit, yogurt, or sorbet.
- Share with several people.
- Order a lower-fat / calorie meal to allow for dessert.
Having healthy eating habits is an important life skill to help ensure overall health and well-being. Health Edco’s wide range of innovative nutrition education materials, products, and display cover all the important aspects of healthy eating, from food groups to portion control and so much more. Discover more of our creative nutrition teaching tools in our nutrition education materials section.
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