By Pamela C. Outen
N.C Cooperative Extension, Cabarrus County
The season for graduations, weddings, family reunions, vacations, and “end of the year” parties has certainly arrived. We often choose restaurant dining to celebrate these special occasions so “no one has to cook.” Certainly it’s a treat when the whole family gets together to celebrate a special occasion. But can we celebrate these occasions (and perhaps eating on the run and eating out more often than we should) in a healthy manner? Yes, we can choose healthy options and even eat less.
I enjoy sharing these tips at the classes I teach entitled “Families Eating Smart and Moving More.” The curriculum is wonderful and was written by Dr. Carolyn Dunn, Food Specialist with North Carolina Cooperative Extension in cooperation with the NC Division of Public Health, and the NC Academy of Family Physicians.
When you eat out for a celebration, or “on the run” try some of these tips to keep you and your family healthy.
• Choose a restaurant that serves healthy options. Read the menu and don’t skip the nutrient information. Check out the total fat and calories and try to choose foods that are moderate in fat and lower in calories.
• Think before you order: Planning ahead is always smart. Think about how hungry you actually are. Just say no. Fast food “value” meals may sound like a good deal, but they serve up more calories, fat, and sugar than you need. So, say “no thanks” to the combo offers.
• Don’t supersize: Order a regular burger, fries, and soft drink – and you can enjoy half the calories of the super/biggie/mega-size meal. Did you know a supersize order of fries has over 100 fries? Do you really need that many?
• Share with a friend or family member: There is a smart way to make mega-portions work for your health (and wallet) — share. Split an order of fries to cut calories and save money.
• Save calories with a kid’s meal: Did you know that today’s kid’s meal is the same size as the adult meal we ate in the 1960s?
• Order an appetizer as an entrée: Appetizer portions are often exactly the right size — and a lot less expensive than a full meal.
• Select roasted, baked, broiled, or grilled meats without sauces, gravies or breading.
• Order soup and salad instead of a traditional meal.
• Ask to substitute a baked potato or another vegetable for French fries.
• Take part of your meal home: Eat half of your dinner in the restaurant and take half home for breakfast or lunch tomorrow. This cuts calories and gives you another meal.
• Drink juice, water, or milk: Soft drinks add a lot of sugar and calories. Try low-fat milk or water instead. If you choose a soft drink, go with the small – plus a large ice water.
• Enjoy healthy options: Many chains are responding to consumer demand with new options – like combo meals featuring sandwiches, side salads, and bottled water.
• Start with a salad when eating at a buffet: Load up your plate with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables at the start of the buffet. Go lighter on the pasta and potato salads with heavy dressing, cheeses, and bacon bits. Use salad dressing sparingly.
• Eat slowly: By eating slowly and paying attention, we get greater satisfaction from all meals and snacks. Remember that it takes 20 minutes for your brain to “hear” that you are full.
I hope you enjoy special dining occasions with your family, and use these tips to “eat smart on the run.”