Americans eat out on average five times a week and for the first time, are spending more on dining out than they do on grocery bills.
-National Restaurant Association
When I first read that I thought, that can not be true. Five (5) times a week means roughly twenty (20) meals in a month, which can get pretty expensive. When each meal is around 10-15 dollars, this means on average a single American is spending anywhere from 200-300 dollars per month. That is just for themselves to eat out, which is not including the grocery bill for the other 60+ meals per month.
Think about how much you could save if you ate at home.. not to mention the control over what you ate and the weight you could loose from not eating those darned dinner rolls they hand out.
However, I am not here to shake my finger and tell you to quit dining out, it is after-all, part of our society. FOOD is our society. Our culture, revolves around the dinner table, food and good company. I would never tell somebody to stop embracing their culture, but when dining out becomes an everyday occurrence there are healthier ways to enjoy the experience and not have to worry about buying bigger pants.
It does not involve researching the restaurant and their menu before you go, because how many times does that actually happen before you get bored. Let’s be honest, I don’t even do that. Going out to eat is supposed to be a treat, it’s spontaneous and adventurous– let’s keep it that way.
1. Skip the sodas and mixed drinks
- Ask for water instead. Not only will this save you money and questioning how the dinner bill escalated so quickly, but it will help suppress your hunger. By drinking a glass of water before your meal, you replenish your body stores and dilute your hunger factor. Many times when we think we are hungry, we may just be thirsty. By not drinking the soda, this also saves us from consuming 150+ calories and about 39 grams of sugar. That sugar is unneeded and essentially a waste of calories because it goes straight into fat storage.
2. Skip the free “Bread n’ Butter”
- When the waiter comes around with the basket just say, “No thanks”. Most of time even when we tell ourselves we have self control and won’t eat it, if it’s in front of us the chips are inevitably going to be eaten. By waving the basket away this can save you from consuming at least 200-300 calories alone. If it’s queso or guac that could mean the difference of 300-400 calories.
3. Salad before dinner
- Order a simple house salad or broth based soup. Even if you refuse to order veggies as a side for your meal, at least you had a salad before the main dish. This helps to control the hunger level so you don’t go ravenous and overeat when the waiter finally brings out your long awaited entree.
4. Don’t settle for iceberg
- Ask to substitute it with spinach and/or kale. Restaurants are notorious for raking up the prices on iceberg lettuce. It’s 96% water, cheap, and doesn’t provide your body with much sustenance. Although it does contain some vitamins like calcium, potassium, vitamins A & C – spinach and kale have more to offer. Most of the time if the lettuce is not described on the menu- it’s iceberg.
5. Avoid creamy sauces on salads
- The whole point of ordering a salad is to gain the nutrients, so don’t bog it down with counterproductive dressings and toppings. Things to avoid putting on salads would include croutons, cheese, caesar dressing, ranch dressing, cheese sauce, 1000 island dressing, pasta salad, potato salad, coleslaw etc. Ask for the dressing to be put on the side. Most often, restaurants will drench the salad with 3x the serving size of dressing. The typical serving serve is 2 tablespoons. That means the calorie count is going from 120 calories to 360 calories (and that’s just for the dressing!)
6. Look for loaded words
- When scanning through the menu, be aware of the loaded words they use to describe the dish that suggests high calories and lots of fat. These words include pan-fried, crispy, dipped, au-gratin, alfredo, sautéed, rich, creamy, fried, breaded and smothered. If you see an entree you like but it contains a loaded word, ask for it be cooked a different way such as broiled, steamed, baked or grilled.
7. Picking your meat
- There are good meats and then there are better meats. Generally, the leaner the better. White meats such as chicken (without the skin), fish, seafood, turkey, cornish hen etc are very lean and good sources of protein. Red meats such as filet mignon, sirloin tip, top loin, flank steak, tenderloin and lean ground beef are good choices as well. Skip the bacon, pork chops and other fatty meats and try to stick with the leaner choices.
8. Double up on the veggies
- Usually when ordering you are given a choice of sides. This is when it would be ideal to choose two veggies (but not two orders of fries). If the restaurant only offers one veggie choice, ask to double the size of the veggies. A good rule of thumb is to order your plate with 50% veggies, 25% protein, and 25% grains. The veggies will contribute fiber and nutrients that the protein and grains do not offer.
9. Box half of it up
- When ordering your meal, just ask the waiter to go ahead and box half of it up before it even gets to the table. Usually when restaurants give you a large portion, you try to eat it all because its “there in front of you.” Even if you try to eat it all and don’t succeed, you become so full you don’t want to box up the rest and it becomes waste. That translates into wasted food, wasted calories and wasted money. Instead, if it’s boxed before you start eating, you only see half the portion on the plate and your stomach is satisfied with finishing the plate. This habit will save you money, food, and your belly (not to mention you go home with another meal).
10. Skip the dessert and order coffee
- Most of you will ignore what I just said about skipping the dessert. If you are stubborn and do order a dessert, go for the lighter choice such as a fruit tart, gelato or pie. Things to avoid would be cheesecake, ice-cream, cake drenched in sauces, brownies, creme brûlée or other richly layered desserts. The best option would be a cup of coffee to settle your stomach and kick start your metabolism into processing the dinner you just ate.
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