Jill Koegel is a registered dietician and certified personal trainer in Omaha. She blogs every Wednesday for Livewellnebraska.com. Read more from Jill here.
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There are a lot of things to consider when you eat out, but it is possible to do so without compromising your health. To be safe, here are my three must-ask questions:
How often do I eat out?
My favorite answer here is, "Less than once a week." If you dine out more than once or twice a week, you need to be more careful with your choices. For example, if you grab lunch with co-workers and your spouse orders takeout for dinner, choose a healthier option for both, like a soup/salad combo. On the other hand, if you eat out only once a month, you likely have more "wiggle room" to indulge a bit.
Eating at home more often will help de-sensitize your palate. Many people say they grow accustomed to less salty, less greasy foods at home, therefore changing their desire for unhealthy foods when eating out.
What do I order when I eat out?
What to order when you eat out should depend on your answer to the first question. Unfortunately, the majority of people eat out multiple times a week. Two of my clients, who eat almost exclusively at restaurants, lost 30 pounds together just by ordering leaner options. My suggestions are below, and there is sure to be something on this list at almost any restaurant. Use common sense when ordering these items, being aware of toppings, sauces, condiments, buns, cooking techniques, etc.
• Grilled chicken, fish or shrimp
• Steamed or grilled vegetables
• Portabella or veggie-based burgers
• Salad bar
• Appetizers such as edamame, hummus served with veggies or shrimp cocktail
• Tofu (not fried or tempura-style)
• "Skinny" or low-cal items
• Stir-fry entrees with clear sauces and extra veggies
• Egg white or egg substitute items
• Sub sandwiches, no mayo or cheese
• Appetizer servings of flatbread pizzas with vegetables and/or chicken
• Salad with light or vinegar-based dressing
• Broth-based soups
• Non-fried sushi or sashimi options
How much do I eat when I eat out?
Most people know that the portions served at restaurants are bigger than what you need – sometimes six or more times the suggested serving size. Again, your answers to the first two questions affect how much of the meal you should eat. Ordering what your taste buds are craving (even it's not as healthy) and eating half might be an option. This is OK if you don't eat out much or order one of the above examples.
Putting leftovers in a to-go box is another option. And although I'm not a wasteful person, remember the difference between wasteful and waist-full when eating out. Know that it's OK to push the food away before it's gone and avoid the take-home box all together.