Dietitian’s Digest: Yes, you can eat healthy while going out to eat

Published 2:32 pm Wednesday, March 3, 2021

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Dietitian’s Digest by Emily Schmidt

Albert Lea resident Emily Schmidt is a registered dietitian at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea. She enjoys writing, cooking and spending time with family.

Did you know that making healthy eating a priority doesn’t mean you have to give up eating at your favorite restaurants? In fact, occasional dining out can be an indicator that you have a healthy relationship with food and eating and may be more likely to sustain healthy lifestyle choices on a longer-term basis. I’ve been told by many people recently that they are torn between choosing to support local restaurants during the past difficult economic year and making better eating choices. What if I told you that you can do both? Here are some tips to help you enjoy the best of both worlds.

Emily Schmidt

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1. Consider how frequently you’re dining out. Is it every day or multiple times a day, or just a few times per week? Based on your lifestyle and budget, set a realistic limit on dining out frequency. Can you scale back from once daily to perhaps two to three times per week? Make a plan for the week for a reasonable balance between eating at home or packing your own meals and snacks for work or school, but certainly don’t feel guilty for occasional dining out, especially considering the benefit to local restaurants!

2. Plan your day accordingly. If you know you’ll be dining out for a certain meal of the day, consider making adjustments to the rest of your day. For instance, if you’re having a heavier restaurant meal for lunch, ensure that you’re having a fiber- and protein-packed breakfast and dinner, and be conscious of snacks. This doesn’t mean that you need to skip other meals and snacks as this may actually backfire. Being excessively hungry may lead to overeating later on, so it’s important to still eat consistently throughout the day when you’re feeling hungry.

3. Check your portions. As many of us know, food portions while dining out are often excessive — sometimes enough for two meals or two people. Use that knowledge to your benefit if possible, e.g., order a large meal to split between two people, or if ordering takeout for your family, consider ordering a few entrees and splitting. If you already know there’s more than you can eat, set aside a portion for leftovers, and if it’s not going to be very good reheated, it’s OK to have some food waste. That’s a difficult concept for many as we’re taught to not waste our food, but our health also needs to be considered — it’s not always healthy to be part of the “clean your plate club,” and there’s no need to feel guilty for prioritizing your own health.

4. Add vegetables and fruits when possible. To add volume to the meal without tacking on excessive added sugar and calories, it can be helpful to focus on additional non-starchy vegetables or a serving of fruit. Did you already have dessert today? Instead of a second dessert, consider opting for fruit instead this time. If you’re waiting for a pizza delivery, snack on some veggies or fruit before it arrives. If the restaurant has plant-based options, make those part of your meal if possible — beyond the typical side salad, also consider vegetable or bean soups or roasted or steamed veggies.

5. Remember adequate hydration and being conscious of beverage choices. Ensure that you’re well hydrated throughout the day, as being dehydrated can lead to overeating. Drink water before your meal, and although it’s perfectly fine to have some alcoholic or sugar-sweetened beverages occasionally as a treat, perhaps set a weekly limit as to how often you’ll have a soda or alcoholic drink with takeout or restaurant food.

Don’t forget that life doesn’t need to be void of dining out in order to be “healthy” — we can have both!