Dining Out: Tips for Healthy Choices One Forkful at a Time

Written by Student Health Services Dietetic Intern, Ellee Ellison

Put your Best Fork Forward.”

National Nutrition Month, 2017

Eating out is a part of the college lifestyle. Many students use it as a time to hang out with friends or feel it’s convenient when they don’t have time to cook or pack a lunch. There is nothing wrong with eating out; it’s just about practicing moderation. Moderation is one of a dietitian’s favorite words that basically means how much and how often you are eating something. Restaurant portions continue to increase in an effort to please customers, but many have reached double to triple the amounts we need. This means we need to be more mindful of what we are eating when we are eating out. In March, we are celebrating National Nutrition Month with the theme of “Put your Best Fork Forward.” In an effort to help you make each forkful more nutritious (with little by little changes), we are providing some tips to help you be more mindful when eating out and make healthy decisions.

Before heading out to eat there are a few things you can do to help set yourself up for success. One of the most useful tips is to check the nutrition facts of the restaurant beforehand on their website or a website database like MyFitnessPal or SparkPeople. It can help you be more aware and informed when you are ordering at the restaurant. It is an easy task, but it can greatly impact what you order and how much you eat.

You can take it a step farther by making a game plan before even sitting down at the restaurant. You can plan to take half of your favorite meal home as leftovers or pick a few healthier options to try. Over time you will probably develop a list of restaurants that have healthy options you like or may be easier to order/substitute healthier choices. Use this list by offering them up as suggestions when friends are trying to decide where to go eat or for yourself to make good choices when you are overwhelmed with schoolwork. This does not mean you can only go to the restaurants on the list, but it can be a useful resource to have on hand to help you make good choices more often.

Lastly, consider eating a healthy snack like an apple, a handful of nuts, or some veggies and hummus before heading to eat to pack in good nutrition upfront. It can also prevent you from getting to the restaurant starving, which can lead to overeating at the meal or mindless eating of the appetizers. Having an idea of what is available or a plan of what you’re going to do beforehand helps you be more mindful and successful.

Preparation Summary:

  • Consider checking out the nutrition facts of the restaurant
  • Have a game plan of what you’re going to do before going in
  • Make a list of restaurants with healthy options to offer as ideas
  • Try to have a healthy snack before heading out to eat

When ordering, think about making your plate similar to the diagram Myplate to have a balanced meal. All five food groups are important and provide nutrients for the body. It is important to note that fruits and veggies make up half the plate. Try to incorporate them into your meals by pairing a side salad with your chicken sandwich, substituting steamed veggies for the fries, or eating a piece of fruit before going to grab tacos. There is a multitude of ways to do it, and it helps you balance your plate without feeling like you’re missing out on your favorite food.

It is important to be mindful of portion sizes and cooking descriptions, as well, when ordering. Monitoring portion sizes and looking at cooking descriptions can help you decode what is going on when you check the nutrition facts or useful to use to make a healthier choice if you haven’t checked the nutrition facts. As mentioned in the beginning, portion sizes have substantially increased over the years. We as humans tend to see an end of a meal when the plate is empty because we use sight in eating, but this can lead to over eating. To prevent this, consider boxing up half your meal before starting to eat, eat a salad before beginning your meal to help you feel fuller on fewer calories, or ask for your dressing/condiments on the side. Also, when ordering, look for words including “grilled,” “broiled” or “steamed,” as it means the food is cooked with less fat, and limit dishes with descriptions such as “fried,” “breaded,” “smothered,” “alfredo,” “rich” and “creamy.” When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask your waiter about how the food is prepared or which ingredients it contains.

Lastly, consider choosing water more often when out to eat. Water hydrates you and is part of a healthy diet. Sodas and sweetened beverages contain empty calories and can add up quickly. By empty calories, I mean there is not much nutrition in them and many times drinking our calories doesn’t contribute to a sense of satiety like food does, leading us to overeat. When you do drink sweetened beverages, consider buying a can or bottle to have a portioned amount instead of a cup for the soda fountain where you get endless refills. These are just a few tips to make healthier choices when ordering at restaurants.

Ordering Summary:

  • Try to mimic the Myplate diagram with your order
  • Be mindful of portion sizes; consider boxing up half your meal before starting to eat or ordering dressing/condiments on the side
  • Know some basic cooking terms
  • Substitute in healthy sides when possible
  • Drink water
In conclusion, enjoy the time you have to hang out with friends and take a break from schoolwork. These are just tips to help you navigate making healthier choices. The goal of “Put your best fork forward” is to start to make small, sustainable changes that make your diet healthier one forkful at a time. Just pick one or two tips to start implementing and those small changes can add up over time.

If this post sparked some questions or you feel you need some more nutrition guidance, make an appointment with the Student Health Services Dietitian, Meghan Windham. Initial appointments can be made online at shs.tamu.edu/appointments or by calling (979) 458-8250.

Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon. – Doug Larson

Information provided by CDC.gov and ChooseMyPlate.gov.

By |2017-11-10T08:04:28+00:00March 1st, 2017|Dietitian, Health, Nutrition|5 Comments