Weekly Wellness: Dining Out Web Extra Part One

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COLUMBIA - When you are trying to change your daily fueling habits, dining out at restaurants can seem overwhelming. Especially if the decision to dine out is based on work and, because of this, you have no say in the restaurant choice.

Breathe. It's going to be okay.

This is the first of a two-part series created to make things a little more manageable and feel a little less daunting. These tips are meant to be easy. This isn't rocket science. This isn't brain surgery. It's common sense. We aren't reinventing any wheels here. We are just re-reminding you of what you can do to help change your daily habits for the better.

The 123's are super-easy:

1. Be prepared. If you happen to know (in advance) the restaurant where you will be dining, jump online and review their menu. This way you're prepared to order what will best suit your needs.

2. Beware of the buffet. If you have the option of the all-you-can eat buffet or a single entrée, go for the entrée (so you're not tempted). If you opt for the all-you-can-eat salad bar, avoid cream-based "salads" (i.e. potato salad, macaroni salad, etc).

3. Don't drink your calories. Sodas, mixed cocktails and juices can add lots of calories and sugar to your meal. Stick with water and unsweet tea instead.

Now it's time to move on to the ABC's. Hopefully you'll find some tips that will help you along your dining journey.

"A" for Appetizers: I look at appetizers in two ways: skip it or choose it as a meal. If you plan on having an entrée, you probably don't need it. If you didn't see any entrees on the menu that strike your fancy, but the crab cakes appetizer looks delish, plan on ordering that as your entrée with a side salad.

"B" for Bread: Skip it. In most cases, it can add a few hundred calories to your meal. If you have the option of requesting that no bread be delivered to the table, fantastic! If you're with a group of people, just move it to the other side of the table. Save your calories for the meal.

"C" for Creamy/Creamed: If a menu item is described as "creamy" or having a "cream" sauce, in most cases this is an indication of more calories and more fat. I include creamy salad dressings in this too. Try to avoid creamy stuff.

"D" for Dips: I've found that most foods that involve dipping one food item into another food item (aka dipping sauce) is a way to add calories on top of calories. Chicken wings, nachos, chips & salsa, and other foods have a tendency to add to the waistline. Sliced veggies are great! Skip the dip.

"E" for Entree: Choosing an entrée that is going to satisfy you and not break the calorie bank can be a challenge. If you are more focused on "being good," then favor the leaner options. Look for: grilled or baked and chicken or fish; Avoid: fried, battered or creamy. If you are more focused on splurging, pay attention to portion sizes. It's not about suffering. It's about finding a balance that works for you.

"F" for Fried: If you see the word fried as a descriptor of the menu item, ask the server if it's possible to have the item prepared in a different way (i.e. grilled). In this day and age of food allergies, cooks and chefs are accustomed to having to make changes to the preparation of dishes. It's not a problem! Most chefs and cooks will tell you this! They want their customers to be happy! Don't be afraid to ask to have your meal prepared the way you want it.

"G" for Grilled: This is one of the best ways to have your protein choices prepared. Chicken, pork and fish can all be grilled rather than fried. So, even if the menu suggests that the preparation is fried, talk to your server. Avoid fried and go for grilled!

"H" for Half: Portion sizes can be quite large, at times. Challenge yourself to only eat half of your meal and ask for a to-go container for the other half. You might even ask the server to only bring you half of the entrée when your food is ready. If the kitchen can halve your meal before it's even brought to the table, it makes it even easier to succeed at portion control!

"I" for Italian: Pasta! We love it! We just have to be careful when we're at the Italian restaurants. Sauce: go red, not white. Cheese: be careful about adding cheese to your dish (especially if it already has cheese as an ingredient, like lasagna). Adding 1 tablespoon of grated parmesan will add 22 calories to your meal (and I'm pretty sure it's difficult to stop at 1 tablespoon). Pesto: skip it or limit it, because of its oil content.

"J" for Journal: One of the reasons that programs like Weight Watchers are so helpful is because they encourage you to pay attention to what you're eating and drinking. If you have to track and journal every calorie that you consume, you begin to have a self-awareness that is vital to changing habits. There are some excellent smart phone apps available that can help you do the same thing. Or grab a small notebook and a pen!

"K" for Ketchup: Three tablespoons of ketchup can add 50+ calories and 15 grams of sugar to your meal. If you can skip it, skip it.

"L" for Light: Many restaurant chains have started offering "Light" (or "Low fat") menu items. Read the menu and see what your options may be. Usually theses chains also include the nutritional information with the description. They can't make it much easier than that!

Now you're well on your way to becoming a dining-out master! Stay tuned for next week's conclusion to the 123's and ABC's of Dining Out.

Amanda K Barnes
Certified Personal Trainer


Weekly Wellness