A recent survey found that Americans eat 4.8 meals a week at restaurants instead of at home — which means we all have several opportunities to get duped into eating too much and making poor choices. And many times, the restaurants themselves are conspiring against our diet and our health. Here are five tricks to try to avoid.
Freebies on the table: Before you even have a chance to peruse the menu for (hopefully) healthy options, your server deposits some tidbits on the table. “Mindlessly snacking can add more than 300 calories to your dinner,” says Pam Fullenweider, RDN, a Houston-based dietitian. Whether it’s chips and salsa or bread and butter, you’ll be better off not filling up on the freebies on top of eating a full meal.
Too much choice: It’s the rare person who can stick to a healthy diet when confronted with an opulent, all-you-can-eat buffet. And while there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself on occasion, do it consciously. “Peruse the buffet first to see all that’s available before you start filling your plate,” says Karen Dolins, EdD, RD, a nutrition consultant in White Plains, NY. “Then go through the line and select only those items you’ve decided you really want.
Super-size portions: Many restaurants want to make you feel like you’re getting more for your money. But that usually means just giving you more food than is reasonable to eat in a single sitting. “Some entrees contain more calories, sodium and saturated fat than the USDA recommends consuming in an entire day,” Fullenweider says. To keep portion sizes healthier, order an appetizer as an entrée, ask for a half serving of pasta or split a dish with a friend.
Sneaky menu terms: When you see words like “sautéed,” “stir-fried,” or “grilled” on the menu, they sound like healthy preparations. “But all those cooking methods typically include large amounts of oil and/or butter,” Dolins says. Better words to look for include “broiled,” “steamed” and “poached.” If it’s unclear how an item is cooked, don’t be afraid to ask.
The dessert exhibit: You just ate a delicious meal, you’re feeling pleasantly full and you have no intention of overindulging by ordering dessert. But then out comes the dessert cart — or even just a menu filled with mouth-watering descriptions — and suddenly your willpower goes out the window. If you know you want to skip the sweet course, tell your server when he clears the dinner plates that you don’t want to see the dessert menu or cart. And if you can’t resist, order something for the table and enjoy a few bites.
Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.