We all love eating out- somebody else does the dishes, and there's usually a lot more to choose from than if we ate at home again tonight. But how do we bring our goal of eating well with us, without resorting to counting calories? There are a few simple rules of thumb that can help you select healthier food, and eat a reasonable portion, while still ordering directly from the menu.
First, one helping is usually about the size of your closed fist. So if they bring you a baked potato the size of Idaho, you've got a ready-made measuring stick for your own body's health. Maybe you can keep the other half of that potato for lunch tomorrow. The goal is to have individual servings from two or three different foods at each meal- servings whose size are based on your own body size and metabolism. Growing children and teens need more food than sedentary grandparents, and healthy parents fall somewhere in between.
Remember the food pyramid from elementary school? You want mostly helpings of the things on the bottom- fruits and vegetables. A few whole grains, and even less meat, milk and other protein. The tiny triangle on top is made of fats. We do need some fats in our diet to help us break down our other foods, and keep our hair and skin healthy. But "some" translates into a few teaspoons a day, and vegetable oils such as olive oil or coconut oil are best. Sugar doesn't even make it onto the chart of healthy foods.
With that pyramid in mind, select meals that include vegetables and salad greens. Remember that fried or breaded foods, and cream-based sauces, are likely to contain more than your fair share of fats. Even when they come on top of a salad. Do the fist-test to determine how much of any one food you want to eat-- two or three fists usually make a good-sized meal. One or two for fruits and vegetables, one-- or half of one-- for meats and cheeses and milk products, one for everything else if you're really hungry.
Be aware that the thicker the sauce, the more fat and additives were probably mixed in (especially with Asian cuisine). White foods are more likely to be high in starch and sugar, and they usually have a fatty/salty topping for flavor. White foods vary from white rice to white pasta to french fries, white sauces and creamy dressings. The more natural colors in your meal, the healthier it is likely to be for you. Dark greens, yellow squashes, brown rice, blueberries, red wines, etc-- the rainbow of nutrients these foods include guarantee that your body is receiving a variety of nutritional benefits from your meal.
If you plan to have breaded chicken, or alfredo on your pasta, consider substituting your french fries or your (also white) potato for the day's steamed veggies, or a fresh salad (hold the croutons) with a vinaigrette dressing. Also, remember the before-dinner warm bread and butter you love so much? It's white, and it's covered in a salty fat for flavor. Consider skipping the bread, or having just one slice. Fill up on the foods at the bottom of your pyramid instead. The less a food has been processed, the more nutrients it has retained for you.
After dinner, consider sharing a single dessert with the table or with a friend. That way, everyone enjoys a bite or two of something sweet, but nobody eats the whole thing. If dessert is calling your name, select a dessert with fresh in-season fruits when possible. Syrup-based fruit desserts are often less healthy than a brownie with nuts would be. Ask them not to add any whipped cream. Again, cream-based desserts such as cheesecake or cream-filled pastries are more likely to have a lot of sugar and fat mixed into the flavor. Drinking extra water with your dessert will help your body process everything you do decide to eat.
For the average adult male, two glasses of wine (two half-glasses) is a healthy amount to imbibe with a meal, once a day. For a woman, a single glass is considered healthy. Remember that beer, especially rice-based beers, hard liquors, and sodas are made of empty calories and sugar. They can give you bad breath and holster hips if you drink to excess, or on a regular basis. Intersperse any alcoholic beverages with large glasses of water. Consider sticking to a single glass of wine, and ice water with your meal, as an easy way to enjoy eating healthy your favorite restaurant.
A little extra consideration-- how much, what color, who can you share it with-- goes a long way toward being healthy when you eat out. Even bringing one or two of these ideas with you the next time you grab a menu and a friend will make a difference. Remember, food is meant to be enjoyed. Find the changes that are easy for you, and look at the big picture. Moderation and variety are the keys to good health, even when someone else is doing the dishes.