The thought of enjoying a great meal out with friends and family excites me. I love getting a "night off" from cooking, enjoying a nice glass of wine (and all its benefits!) and taking a break from it all. What I don't want to do, however, is take a break from portion control and good nutrition. Unfortunately, if there was ever a situation where that could occur, a trip to my favorite local restaurant is it.
While many eateries are providing more nutritious options for the health-conscious consumer, the old high-fat, high-calorie favorites can still be found at almost any restaurant. Did you know that the average restaurant meal is about 1,200 calories? We tend to eat more at restaurants for several reasons. First, studies show that we eat about 40 percent more when we are in groups than when we are alone. We often see dining out as an opportunity to "treat ourselves" and forgo healthier options. The biggest reason (no pun intended!) we eat more is because the portion sizes at restaurants are often much larger than what we would eat at home. While your wallet may appreciate the great "deal" for so much food, it's actually a really bad deal when it comes to your health.
I spoke with many of my friends regarding what they felt was healthy fare at their local restaurant and was astonished by their answers. Foods such as spinach and artichoke dip were seen as a "way to get more vegetables," and popular appetizer sliders were viewed as a way to "control portions." I visited several local, independent and chain restaurants to see for myself just how "healthy" these options were. While I do believe that you can have a healthy dining experience by incorporating different tactics (for example, ask that half of your order get boxed up before it comes to the table), choosing the following foods off a restaurant menu is probably not the right first step toward a great healthy dining experience.
My message here is not to avoid dining out completely, just be more conscious of your choices, how much you're eating and drinking and how you feel halfway through your meal. If you're no longer hungry, stop -- don't wait until you're full.