Americans are experts at eating out. Not only do we eat out for food but for entertainment and fun. This is a very hard habit for people to break. We are all so busy and eating out is just too easy. It is, however, very costly (money and health). If you take all of the money you would save by not eating out, you would have enough to buy the organic produce, the grass-fed beef, the wild caught fish that costs a little bit more than conventional. Besides the cost factor, you honestly do not know what goes into those yummy dishes. Restaurants focus on taste because they want you to come back and to have an enjoyable experience. I can guarantee they do not care if you are making healthy selections or not. In fact, they thrive on our bad choices. Obviously what tastes good may not be the best thing for us. Restaurants will load up their food with hydrogenated oils, additives, rich/creamy sauces, salt, sugar, etc.
We all know that fast food is not good for us. It is pretty much a given. Why we eat it in the quantities we do is beyond me. But don’t fool yourself. Many of the restaurants we eat at thinking they are healthier are merely dressed up fast food. Instead of standing in line, you sit at a table. Many of the places like Your Neighborhood Grill and the place you can get your Baby Backs are no better than the typical fast food.
My hope is that you will drastically reduce the amount of times you eat out and that if you do go out, you will make better decisions. It is important to remember that we vote with our forks. If more and more people demand organic dishes the restaurants will respond. If they see that their Fried Hormone/Antibiotic filled Chicken Tenders with Hydrogenated Oil soaked French Fries are not selling, they will take them off the menu. This is a recurring dream for me.
Here are some hints to help you if you do go out to eat.
- Scan the menu. If asparagus appears somewhere on the menu, you should be able to substitute it in with your meal. You may have to pay an upcharge but who cares. If they won’t do that for you, leave.
- Don’t feel like you have to finish everything. Restaurants give you way too much food. Most meals are 2-3 times bigger than a normal serving size. Save ½ for lunch the next day or split with someone else.
- Skip the bread and butter before your meal. In fact, ask them to not even bring it to the table.
- Start with a salad but be careful. Restaurant salad dressings are a killer. They are loaded with bad oils, sugars, salt, etc. They can make a salad have more bad fat and bad calories than just ordering the hamburger and French fries. Bring your own dressing (I know, it’s weird but who cares) or ask for olive oil and vinegar or olive oil and lemon slices. Usually the restaurant can accommodate this. Just tell them you are allergic- they’ll understand.
- Avoid soups, especially cream based soups. Soups are notorious for hiding harmful ingredients like MSG (monosodium glutamate), excess table salt, hydrogenated oils, etc. Most soups come on large bags, premade at some corporate headquarters, shipped for hundreds of miles, and loaded with additives and preservatives to make it last. Not exactly mom’s homemade soup.
- Ask for all sauces on the side. Try not to even use them. They are other hiding places for stuff you shouldn’t be eating. If you do have to use them, just drizzle a few drops, don’t slather it on like the restaurants do.
- Avoid fried foods. Ask for grilled or broiled
- Order bottled water or bring your own. Most other water comes right from the tap.
- For kids, order off of the adult menu and have them share. Typically, there is nothing healthy on a kids menu.
- If you are ordering fish, make sure it is wild-caught and preferably not from the Atlantic (toxicity issues). If they don’t know, don’t eat it.
- Ask if they use margarine or butter. I went to a large chain restaurant and asked for butter and they brought me margarine- they think it’s the same thing. Come to find out there was no butter in the entire restaurant. Guess what your food is cooked with. (Margarine is very bad, by the way)
- Look for organic restaurants. You can do some searches online in your area.
- Substitute a second vegetable for potatoes, rice, etc.
- Always drink water (preferably bottled) this will save you lots of money. Most restaurants charge $1-$3 for sodas, lemonades, and specialty drinks. That really adds up over time.
- Talk to the manager/owner and let them know what you want
- Decide what you are going to eat before you get there. Many restaurants have their menus online where you can print them off.
- Skip dessert
- Skip appetizers (salad can be your appetizer)
- Make your own salad concoction. If you see any ingredients on the menu that would make a good salad, ask them to make you one. (i.e. grilled onions/peppers, broccoli, artichokes, black beans, etc.)
- Squeeze lemon slices over your meal for extra flavor.
- Check the nutrition facts of your favorite dishes online. This is sometimes provided by the restaurant or sometimes by some avid nutrition sleuths out there. You can go to www.thedailyplate.com for specific entrees at specific restaurants.
Just remember that when you eat at home you get these benefits:
- You know what is going in the food
- You can take pride in a home cooked meal
- You can spend quality time preparing the meal and eating with your family without the distractions of a busy, noisy restaurant
- It will save you time and money
- It will save your health!