It’s true that restaurants are making an effort to include healthier, low-calorie options on their menus these days, giving dieters more choices.
But the high-calorie, high-fat dishes are still there to tempt you, sometimes disguised to appear healthy. Can you tell the difference? And are you able to spot the menu items that can easily wreck your dieting intentions for the day?
The small strides towards healthier menus are progress, but there’s still much room for improvement. If you need help distinguishing what’s good and bad for you on a restaurant menu, here are a few hints.
As you start your order, don’t forget about liquid calories.
Choosing soda, alcohol, or sweet tea may not be that big of a deal until you realize the waiter refilled your cup at least three times.
Be smart and choose a drink that won’t add extra, empty calories to your meal. Water, unsweetened tea, and low-fat milk are your best options for beverages without added sugars. If you’re in the mood for an alcoholic beverage, check the calorie count. A single beer can range from 100 to more than 400 calories.
As you wait for your meal, you may consider ordering an appetizer to stave off the hunger. Is this a smart choice?
It can be if you choose a healthy option. Eating a small appetizer can help you avoid binging on an oversized entree. A fresh veggie salad with dressing on the side, a broth-based soup, fruit, steamed seafood or a few chips and salsa are diet-friendly appetizer options. Just say ‘no’ to the bread and butter, anything breaded or fried and cheese dips.
The main dish is usually the calorie trap.
Oversized portions, bottomless buffets and methods of food preparation can be the reasons behind your weight control problem in the first place, so beware of the dangers.
As you peruse a restaurant menu and make your selections, choose an entree that includes vegetables. If possible, ask for a small or medium serving rather than a large.
The way your food is prepared makes a big difference in its calorie count. Order your meal grilled, steamed, baked, blackened, stewed, roasted, or broiled rather than sautéed, scalloped or fried.
Menu descriptions that include sauces, creams, gravies or that include foods that are battered, buttered or breaded are clear indications of high-calorie foods.
Some types of meat are lean, others are fatty. Pork is generally okay, except for bacon, ribs, and sausage. Fish gets two giant thumbs up.
The white meat of chicken, turkey, or duck, without the skin, is also a healthy option. When it comes to beef, steaks and ribs are higher in fat, while ground round and roasts are leaner.
Salads can be a wise choice when eating out but can easily become loaded with calories if you pick the wrong toppings. Avoid creamy dressings, croutons, cheese, fried onions and bacon and stick to fresh vegetables, nuts, beans, fruit and seeds.
Don’t let your dieting intentions go down the drain with poor side dish choices.
A plate full of French fries, a loaded baked potato, chips, or even coleslaw can quickly add on the calories. Your best bet for a healthy side dish are steamed or boiled vegetables without butter or cheese. If you go with a baked potato, ask for it without toppings or toppings on the side. Fruit can also be a great side dish option.
You’ve made it this far without compromising your diet, so watch out for the dessert menu. Your healthy meal shouldn’t be an excuse to indulge in a dessert.
When others at your table order a dessert, enjoy a cup of coffee or tea. The times you feel deprived or crave something sweet, order fruit, angel food cake, frozen yogurt or sorbet. An indulgence every now and then may just mean a longer treadmill workout the next day.
Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.