More Americans are eating out on a daily basis than ever before. According to statistics reported by the United States Department of Agriculture, nearly half of the dollars expended for food are spent on eating outside the home. Not coincidentally, two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and half of these overweight Americans are obese (more than 30 pounds overweight).
Could our increasing pattern of dining out be a contributing factor to our rising national obesity figures? Some experts believe that there is a link. What can we do to keep wonderful restaurant meals from adding not-so-wonderful inches to our waistlines?
Here are four strategies that can help you trim calories:
1. Portion Management: If you’re eating with others, plan on sharing, whether it’s an appetizer or a sandwich. Many restaurants will serve a split order for a small additional cost. If you’re eating alone, package up half of your order before you begin eating so you won’t be tempted to finish the entire portion.
2. Conscious Choices: If fast food is your only option, order a salad or yogurt. For a more substantial entrée, order a large salad with grilled chicken, shrimp or garden vegetables for your entrée. Ask the chef to leave out croutons, cheese and bacon bits.
3. Sandwich Tricks: Take off the top slice and eat an open-faced sandwich. Replace mayonnaise and cheese with mustard. Order whole-grain bread and ask for a double serving of vegetables. Replace fries or chips that accompany the sandwich with fruit or a green salad.
4. Drinks and Desserts: Instead of sugared drinks (even a regular soda can contain several hundred calories), drink water, low-fat milk, tea or coffee. Ask for skim milk with coffee drinks. Order a child’s cone, sorbet, yogurt or light ice cream for dessert.
These and other defensive strategies for eating at fast-food restaurants can be found in the April 2008 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.
Our growing appetite for dining out isn’t the only factor triggering our collective weight gain, but it does play a role. Remember these important strategies when contemplating the menu: choose wisely, eat smart and enjoy your food!