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Select healthy items when eating out

The March 25 Wellness Wednesday, held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Children’s Hospital lobby, will feature National Nutrition Month. Learn how to eat right when eating out.
by Alison Church
Dietetic Intern
The theme this year for National Nutrition Month (March) is Eat Right.
It is no secret that eating healthy while dining out can be challenging.  In fact, restaurants rarely provide you with the nutritional information for menu items.  As a result, the line distinguishing healthy from unhealthy is often blurred. 
For example, a salad choice screams healthy.  But the creamy dressing, croutons, and cheese sprinkles turn the “healthy” claim into a resounding “unhealthy” groan. The listing of nutritional content for food included on restaurant menus, unfortunately, is not required. However, the tips included below can help you make healthy meal choices when eating out:

Notice the descriptions on the menu. Deep-fried, pan-fried, basted, batter-dipped, breaded, creamy, crispy, au gratin, or in cream sauce are descriptive words usually used to describe foods higher in fat, calories and sodium.

Refuse the freebies. Politely decline the complimentary bread, chips and salsa, or peanuts.  Spend your calories on your meal.

Watch your portion size. Restaurants often serve their food on large serving dishes that offer large portions.  Sharing a meal or bringing half your meal home is an easy way to control your portions and help control your weight. Ask for a “doggie bag” when you order so you can enjoy the rest tomorrow.

Select healthy side dishes. Opt for grilled vegetables as opposed to sides such as french fries, coleslaw, or a loaded baked potato to help reduce calories and fat in your meal.  In addition, vegetables are a great source of fiber, which keeps you feeling full for longer.

Customize your order. Don’t be afraid to order a menu item without specific items such as cheese, sour cream or mayonnaise.

Check the Web site.  Many restaurants are starting to include the nutrition information for their menu items on their Web sites. If you know the restaurant destination, check out the site beforehand and decide which meal will fit into your calorie allowance. Stay with the healthy decision when placing your order.
Restaurants menus can be extensive. Therefore, as you look over the menu items, it is important to recognize healthy options when considering soups, salads, pastas, seafood or meat.  No matter what you’re in the mood for, these tips will assist in selecting healthy items.

Soup: Broth-based soups are a better option compared to cream-based soups.

Salad:  Ask the server for your dressing on the side to control your portion and opt for oil and vinegar or a vinaigrette dressing (Italian) instead of a cream-based dressing (Ranch, Thousand Island, Blue Cheese, French).

Pasta:  Choose whole-grain pasta, if available.  Select a tomato-based sauce over a cream-based sauce,  such as Alfredo sauce.

Seafood: Order your seafood baked, broiled, sautéed, poached, steamed, or grilled instead of fried.  If you are unsure how a particular dish is prepared ask your server. 

Meat: Opt for leaner cuts of meat such a pork loin or beef sirloin. Try eating chicken breasts without the skin.
By making healthy menu selections, you can incorporate the restaurant experience into your healthy lifestyle.


Friday, March 20, 2009

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.