There are lyrics to a song “These Are the Good Ole Days.” While I may agree with this about many things, there is one thing I truly do not agree with and that is eating out. I remember as a kid and young adult eating out was reserved for special occasions, celebrations and when we wanted to indulge ourselves. Fast forward to today and it seems almost everyone is eating out most days of the week. Don’t get me wrong, I get it; we are so busy, stressed out and wired up we just don’t have the time or energy to shop, prepare, eat and then clean up after meals at home. The bottom line is most of us are eating out way too much. Although eating out is lots of fun, there are many traps.
That being said, there are times I do want to go out to eat and indulge and have a nutritional disaster, just not day after day.
Whether you find yourself in the drive-thru or the local sushi den, use these rules to navigate the many nutritional land mines waiting for you in the restaurant world.
Front-Load with Protein: A study published in Physiology & Behavior showed that people who ate a protein-heavy appetizer consumed an average of 16 percent fewer calories in their entrée than those who loaded up with carbohydrates. The effect is spoiled, though, if you wolf down a bunch of greasy chicken strips. Look for something like shrimp cocktail, which hasn’t been deep-fried or slathered with cheese.
Avoid Handouts: Just because it doesn’t cost money doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a price. Munch on a couple of Olive Garden’s breadsticks or Texas Roadhouse dinner rolls and you’ve just put down 300 calories before your meal arrives. A basket of chips at the Mexican joint? Expect a dietary price tag around 500 calories, which can easily double the impact of an entrée. Not so free now, is it?
Don’t Fall for Combos: At every fast-food restaurant, as soon as you decide on an entrée, expect to face some variation of this question: “Would you like to make it a combo meal?” Of course, you’re tempted. This is the modern-day equivalent of supersizing, wherein you get an average of 55 percent more calories for 17 percent more money. Just say “No.”
Drink Responsibly: Sure, sure, you know all about the dangers of soda, but here’s something you might not realize: A cup of sweet tea is only marginally better than Pepsi. Each glass you drink with dinner adds about 120 calories to your meal, and the same goes for juice. In fact, America’s love affair with flavored drinks adds 450 calories to our daily diet.
Personalize Your Order: Think of the menu as a list of starting points. Any respectable joint in the country, even fast-food purveyors, will tailor to your wants, but only if you voice them. The caloric savings are as big as your imagination. Ask for mustard instead of mayo, broiled instead of fried. Order whole-grain bread for your sandwich, whole wheat pasta and request light oil with your omelet.
Think Thin: Want to know the easiest way to make a portly pizza? Here’s a hint: it has nothing to do with toppings. Nope, the biggest problem facing your pie is the massive boat of oily crust hunkering along the bottom. Your best defense is to order it as thin as you can. Rather than a deep dish, downsize to a thin crust and you just burned hundreds of calories without lifting a finger.
Order It To Go: How many times have you finished your plate just because there wasn’t enough to take home? Well, next time, make sure there’s enough. Every time you order a full-size dinner entrée, ask the server to deliver a to-go box with your food. The food is easier to divide before you start eating, and you won’t have to fight the temptation of a half-eaten manicotti in your face.
Be a Dessert Dodger: The average dessert at T.G.I. Friday’s, for instance, packs 819 calories. So rather than order your own massive dessert, ask for an extra spoon and take a few bites from your tablemates’. You’ll be doing everyone a favor.
If time is an issue for you, try this fast, healthy and delish dish.
Shrimp & Mango Lettuce Wraps
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce
8 large Bibb lettuce leaves
1 mango, sliced
1/4 cup peanuts, chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint
lime wedges and Sriracha or Asian chili-garlic sauce, for serving (optional)
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and garlic and cook until the shrimp are opaque, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the fish sauce and toss to combine.
Top the lettuce leaves with the shrimp mixture, mango, peanuts, and mint. Serve with lime wedges and Sriracha sauce, if desired.
Stuart Offer, DC, CSCS, CLC, is a Wellness Coach & Educator with Hickok & Boardman Group Benefits. He lives in in South Burlington.