For many college students, eating out is a treat. There’s nothing better than sitting down with friends and family at your favorite restaurant to share a yummy meal. With so many delicious choices, navigating the menu for healthy options can be a challenging and daunting task. A typical restaurant meal contains upwards of 1,100 calories, over half the current daily recommendations. The key is to be mindful about your food choices so you can leave the restaurant happy, energized and full. Here are some easy tips to consider for your next meal out.
- Think it through- Before you go the restaurant, think about what you’re craving. Is it a pasta night, or are you in the mood for a good salad? Consider what you have already ate that day, or if it’s a lunch date, what you plan on eating for dinner? It’s all about balance. It might be helpful to decide what to order ahead of time if you are the type that gets distracted with friends, or overwhelmed by the menu. Most restaurants today post the menu and nutrition info on their website for an easy way to plan ahead.
- Learn the lingo- Look for key words in the descriptions of menu items. These words can provide insight as to how the food is prepared, steering you to lower calorie options. Stay away from loaded words like “crispy,” “creamy,” “pan-fried,” and “battered.” These dishes tend to have a lot of added fat. Instead, look for descriptions like “grilled,” “steamed,” “baked,” and “roasted.”
- Don’t be afraid to ask- If the menu is unclear about what is in a dish or how it is prepared, it’s perfectly okay to ask the waiter to provide additional details. If the dish comes with a side of fries, request a small salad or a side of veggies as a substitute. Ask for whole-wheat bread for sandwiches and burgers. If it’s a pasta dish, inquire about whole-wheat options here also. Surprisingly enough, many kitchens stock whole-wheat pasta, even if it’s not on the menu.
- Eat the greens- Many restaurants will serve a salad before the main course. Eat it! Eating greens before the main entree is a great way to get the digestive system stimulated, and also curbs those hunger pains. Studies show people are less likely to overeat when they start the meal with a salad. Salad dressings are packed with added fat and calories, so ask if they can be served on the side and use sparingly.
- Opt for H2O- When choosing a beverage, stick with water rather than soda, sweetened teas, or fruit juices that contain a lot of added sugar. Drinking water throughout a meal slows you down, allowing the digestive system to catch up and process foods more efficiently. It also fills you up faster, preventing the likeliness of over-eating.
Remember, initiation into the “clean plate club” should not be the end goal in your dining experience. Stay in tune with your body, and stop eating when you have had enough. Keep these easy tips in mind for your next dinner-date, and leave the dining dilemmas at the door.
Ashley Russo is a first year graduate student at Syracuse University working on a master’s degree in nutrition science and dietetics. She plans to become a registered dietitian specializing in oncology nutrition.
Photo Credit: Freestockphoto.com, FBM, Stephanie Goodman