Archive for Wednesday, March 17, 2004

How to make wise choices when eating at restaurants

March 17, 2004


I often eat out for lunch, but I know I don't always make the best choices for a healthy diet. Any ideas?

As part of National Nutrition Month, "Eat Smart to Stay Healthy, for a Lifetime," the American Dietetic Assn. has shared ideas on "Healthy Eating on the Run: A Month of Tips." These tips will help you make better food choices for a healthy you.

1. Take time to look over the menu and make a careful selection.

2. Choose fried foods only sometimes -- go for grilled, broiled or steamed foods more often.

3. Order the regular or kid-size portion. Mega-sized servings are probably more then you need.

4. Make milk or a low-fat shake your beverage for an extra calcium boost.

5. Try a side salad instead of fries and go easy on the dressing.

6. Split your order. Share fries or an extra large sandwich with a friend.

7. Boost the nutrients in all kinds of sandwiches by adding tomato, peppers and other vegetables.

8. In place of fries or fried onion rings, order corn on the cob, green beans, baked beans or rice.

9. A baked potato offers more fiber and fewer calories than fries, just go easy on the sour cream and butter. Top your potato with broccoli, a small amount of cheese or salsa.

10. At the deli or sub shop, choose lean beef, ham, turkey or chicken on whole grain bread.

11. For a lighter meal, order an appetizer for your entree.

12. Go easy on condiments, special sauces and dressings on sandwiches and salads. Ask for mustard, catsup, salsa or low-fat spreads and dressings.

13. Enjoy ethnic foods such as Chinese stir-fry, vegetable-stuffed pita or Mexican burrito. Go easy on the sour cream, cheese and guacamole.

14. At the salad bar, pile on the dark leafy greens, carrots, peppers and other fresh vegetables. Lighten up on mayonnaise-based salads and high-fat toppings.

15. Restaurant portions too large? Take home half the main course for another meal.

16. Order salad with dressing on the side so you can control how much is added.

17. Eat your lower-calorie food first. Soup or salad is a good choice.

18. Pass up all-you-can-eat buffets and unlimited salad bars if you tend to eat too much.

19. If you do choose the buffet, fill up on salad and vegetables first. Take no more than two trips and use the small plate which holds less food.

20. Try a smoothie made with juice, fruit and yogurt for a light lunch or snack.

21. For dessert, choose fresh fruit or a container of fruit chunks if available. Or, share dessert with a friend.

22. Load up your pizza with vegetable toppings. If you add meat, make it lean ham, Canadian bacon, chicken or shrimp.

23. Look for a sandwich wrap in a soft tortilla. Fillings such as rice mixed with seafood, chicken or grilled vegetables are usually low in fat. Be cautious when choosing some of the highly promoted high protein/low carb sandwich wraps. They are often loaded with high-fat bacon, cheese and dressing. Check out the Nutrition Facts information provided by the restaurant chain or go to their Web site. It may be shocking to learn that their high-protein wraps also may be the highest calorie and total fat choices offered on their menu.

24. For the fastest breakfast of all, go with dry cereal and milk. Make the cereal whole-grain or bran and you'll get fiber along with B vitamins and complex carbohydrates.

25. Build a better breakfast sandwich -- replace the bacon or sausage with Canadian bacon or ham and order you sandwich on an English muffin, bagel or bun.

26. Instead of a doughnut, order an English muffin, bagel or a plain soft baked pretzel. Lightly spread with cream cheese or margarine. When available, choose low-fat or fat-free cream cheese or margarine -- or just use jam or jelly.

27. Refrigerate take-out or leftovers if the food won't be eaten right away. Toss foods kept at room temperature for more than two hours.

28. Be size wise about muffins, bagels, croissants and biscuits. A jumbo muffin has twice the fat grams and calories as the regular size.

29. Look for yogurt and fruit for a quick on the run breakfast to start your day. Sprinkle a spoonful of low-fat granola cereal on top for an added crunch. For a healthy fast-food lunch, choose a snack-size yogurt and fruit combination to compliment a small hamburger and water. Add some carrot sticks for an afternoon snack for a complete balanced lunch/snack menu idea.

30. Tuck portable, nonperishable foods in your purse, briefcase or backpack for on-the-go snacking. For example, crackers and peanut butter, small boxes of cereal, dried fruit, pretzels or plain popcorn.

31. Fresh fruit is already packaged to go. Try a variety of seasonal fruits.

Are there any Web sites that show the nutritional value of different fast foods?

In addition to going to the official Web site for individual restaurant chains, another Web site that may be helpful is Not only does it provide nutritional information for a number of menu items from fast-food restaurants, it also provides a comparison of food items from various restaurants from the least calories to the most. It also ranks many fast foods from the most to least calories, calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, fiber, sugars or protein.

-- Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.

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