Regardless of whether the economy is booming or mired in recession, a large number of consumers can be counted on to patronize restaurants. The amount of money spent eating out is quite imposing; in December 2012, the National Restaurant Association predicted that Americans would spend a whopping $660 billion on restaurant trips in the coming year.
The popularity of various chain and non-chain restaurants might be good for the economy, but it isn’t necessarily good for America’s waistline. Many of the appetizers, entrées and desserts sold at these establishments are packed with calories, not to mention their fat and sugar content. While it’s easy to fall off the diet wagon when eating out, it is certainly possible to frequent restaurants without sabotaging your personal health. Restaurant patrons who want to maintain a healthy figure might stand to benefit from the following tips.
Don’t Let Your Eyes See Bigger Than Your Stomach – See if this sounds familiar; you order some delicious item off the menu, and soon are facing a large plate with a king-sized meal on top of it. Instead of acting rationally and only eating some of this serving, many people think with their stomach instead, and try and finish their meal in one sitting. Even if you manage to eat everything on your plate, chances are you’re going to feels stuffed and sleepy after eating so much food.
Instead of trying to eat too much food too soon, try making a conscious effort to only partially finish your meal. You can then simply take the remaining food home in a doggy bag (technically, you’ll probably get a Styrofoam box, but your food should still survive the ride home intact.)
No to French Fries, Yes To Veggies – When placing orders, customers usually don’t pay too much attention to their options for side dishes. Consequentially, people wind up getting large servings of French fries and butter-soaked mashed potatoes, and wind up consuming more calories and fat than they bargained for. In lieu of these items, ask for a salad or serving of veggies instead.
Little Healthy Adjustments Go a Long Way – Another problem with eating out is that it’s very easy to lose track of what you’re eating and drinking. During the span of a few hours, you may treat yourself to two glasses of soda, add extra butter to your steak and pour calorie-dense dressing on your salad. Eventually, all of these choices start to add up, along with your calorie intake. Pay close attention to what you order and eat during the meal, and make sure to limit the bad stuff.
Location, Location, Location – Believe it or not, where you choose to sit inside a restaurant can determine how much you eat. Research has found that patrons who opt to sit close to TV sets tend to eat more food. This is also often true of those with window seats. People sitting in these areas are often preoccupied with what’s on the TV or the outside view, causing them to eat more than they otherwise would. Sitting in less visually stimulating areas may help you keep track of what you’re eating.
The Power of Words – While combing restaurant menus, you may have come across an endless number of words like “tender,” “juicy,” “ripe,” “fresh” and “brick-oven fired” to describe various foods. This isn’t some sort of a coincidence; restaurant chains deliberately use such lingo in order to make their products seem more alluring. Furthermore, research indicates that these terms can even affect how patrons perceive their food. For example, ordering an entrée with a “juicy” label may lead to the customer to think that their meal tastes rather juicy. When scouring your menu options, it’s important to not let this gimmick have too much sway over what you order.
The Problem of Portion Size – Large portion sizes are another reason why people overeat at restaurants. Over the last several decades, the amount of food customers receive from a single dish has steadily grown larger and larger. In the 1950s, for instance, an average-sized hamburger weighed in at a mere 1.5 ounces. Today, a typical restaurant hamburger contains 8 ounces or more worth of food. Given this fact, ordering a “small” sized meal might be enough to satisfy your appetite.
Avoid Filling Up on Appetizers – Appetizers are generally supposed to be a warm-up act for your meal’s entrées. The appetizers available on restaurant menus, however, can still pack quite a caloric punch.
One appetizer option that contains little in the way of calories is salads, provided you limit or avoid ingredients like bacon bits, croutons and cheese. Likewise, calorie-heavy salad dressings should be substituted for vinegar or lemon juice, if possible. If you can’t really enjoy salad without dressing, choose a low-fat or fat-free brand and order it on the side. Rather than globbing the dressing over your salad, simply dip your fork into the dressing container prior to each bite.
Aside from salads, other substitutes that might prove helpful are broth-based soups and whole-grain bread and rolls. Broth-based soups usually contain less calories than soups made with cream (examples of cream soups include clam chowder and creamy potato soup). Whole-grain bread products require more time to digest than breads make with white flour. As a result, they can help put the brakes on your appetite.