Unfortunately, healthful-sounding choices at your favorite restaurant can be nutritional booby traps. We all know that a burger and fries will pack on extra calories and fat, so we survey the menu to find something more healthful.
How about a grilled chicken Caesar salad? Think twice. At Chili's Grill & Bar, the grilled chicken Caesar salad contains a whopping 1,000 calories – approximately half the calories most people should eat in one day. Here's another surprise: at McDonald's, the grilled chicken club sandwich actually has more calories than the Big Mac.
Many diners greatly underestimate the number of calories served at restaurants. The New York City Health Department surveyed 7,000 chain-restaurant customers and found they underestimated the amount of calories they consumed by an average of 600 calories per meal. With most restaurant meals averaging 800 calories, making good choices while eating out can be tricky.
Here are some tips to guide you to more healthful restaurant dining.
â€¢Â Arm yourself with knowledge before you order. Check out the restaurant's Web site for the nutritional breakdown of its menu. Pull up nutrition information using the Web site www.healthydiningfinder.com. Make an informed choice before leaving home.
â€¢Â Do not arrive feeling too hungry. Have a small snack, like an apple, before going to the restaurant.
â€¢Â While waiting for your meal, have the breadbasket or chips and salsa removed from your table. It is too tempting to fill up on empty calories before your meal arrives. Eating just 10 tortilla chips before your meal can add 150 calories to your intake.
â€¢Â Do not be shy about asking exactly how the food is prepared. Marinades and sauces can add fat and calories to an otherwise healthful grilled dish. Order baked, grilled or roasted dishes and ask for the sauces to be served on the side.
â€¢Â Avoid anything fried. Although most chain restaurants have vowed to phase out hydrogenated oils, their convenience and stability at high heat make them irresistible. A small bag of french fries at McDonald's (the size that comes in children's meals) contains 8 grams of the artery-clogging trans fat. The USDA urges people to limit trans fat to 2 grams per day.
â€¢Â Request double vegetables. Vegetables average 25 calories a serving, making them a nutritional bargain. Filling up on the veggies (hold the butter) instead of the high-calorie main dish is a great way to save calories.
â€¢Â Entree portions at most restaurants are enough for two meals. Share an entree with a friend and order an extra salad or save half and take home for another meal. Another idea is to order an appetizer and a salad instead of an entree.
â€¢Â Eat slowly. It takes 20 minutes for our stomachs to communicate with our heads to tell us we are full.
â€¢Â Hold the cheese on hamburgers and sandwiches and save approximately 100 calories. Hold the bacon on sandwiches and save 120 calories.
â€¢Â Share a dessert with a friend.
â€¢Â Be cautious of adding liquid calories when dining out. Beverages can add hundreds of hidden calories to your meal. A nondiet soda can add 150-400 calories, and a glass of wine will add another 125 calories.
â€¢Â De-emphasize the food. Focus on the conversation and being out with friends. Enjoy the break from cooking and cleaning dishes. If you wouldn't gobble down a 20-ounce steak at home, don't stop being smart about nutrition when you walk out the front door.