Dining Out

It is nice to get out of the kitchen once in awhile and let someone else do the cooking. According to the National Restaurant Association, in 2000, the average annual household expenditure away from home was about $855 per person. About half of all adults eat at a restaurant on a typical day, and almost 54 billion meals are eaten in restaurants, at school, and at work cafeterias each year. But dining out can present challenges to your goal of eating healthily during your pregnancy.

The more meals that are eaten away from home, the bigger impact they have on your total daily nutritional intake. It is much easier to splurge or lose sight of your overall eating pattern when you eat out frequently. All of this eating out generates nutritional challenges that include larger-than-normal portion sizes, too many calories, too much fat and sodium, too few vitamins and minerals, and too little fiber.

Your Dining-Out Guidelines

Even though dining out can present some challenges, this doesn't mean you can't eat out occasionally. It simply means that you have to put some thought into the choices that you make when dining out. It also means that you will have to put a greater effort to balance out the rest of your day's intake. When you are at a restaurant, be the first to order your meal so you are not tempted by what other people order. Make an effort to eat slowly and stop eating before you feel too stuffed. You can ask the server to remove your plate once you feel full. If there is food left on your plate, ask for a doggie bag. Try splitting a meal with a dining companion, or bring half your meal home in a doggie bag for lunch the next day. In fact, you can even ask for a doggie bag to come with your meal so you can pack half of it away and not be tempted to eat the whole thing.

Start with easy changes, like choosing low-calorie salad dressings. You can also ask for dressing, gravies, sauces, and condiments (like mayonnaise) to be served on the side. This way, you have more control over how much you use. Small changes can go a long way. Don't be afraid to ask exactly how foods are prepared or to ask to have them prepared in a certain way. When choosing entrees, opt for plain meats and vegetables instead of breaded and/or deep-fried dishes, and avoid sauces and ingredients such as hollandaise, butter, cheese, and cream sauces that can add extra calories and fat.

Menu terms that are clues to lower-fat foods include the following words: baked, braised, broiled, grilled, roasted, steamed, stir-fried, poached, or cooked in its own juices. Menu clues that a food is likely to be higher in fat include these: alfredo, au gratin, cheese sauce, battered, fried, béarnaise, buttered, creamed, French fried, hollandaise, pan fried, sautéed, scalloped, with gravy, or with sauce. Menu clues that a food may be higher in sodium include these words: barbecued, in broth, pickled, smoked, teriyaki, Creole sauce, or soy sauce.

Request substitutes for higher-fat side dishes. For example, if your meal comes with French fries, ask for a baked potato with salsa, a brothy soup, side salad, or fresh fruit bowl instead. Be careful of appetizers before your meal that can really add up in fat and calories. Instead, choose fresh fruit, vegetable juice, marinated vegetables, raw vegetables with salsa dip, or seafood cocktail. Be very careful of beverages such as alcohol and soft drinks that can add tons of empty calories to your meal. You best bet is water with a twist of lemon — and keep it coming, especially if you're trying to avoid the bread basket! Most importantly, balance your dining-out habits with physical activity. Being physically active is what helps burn those calories. After you get home from eating out, take a walk.

Plan for Dining Out

Planning ahead for a meal out can put you on the right path to a healthier eating experience. Plan your day so that you can fit the restaurant meal into your whole day's eating plan. Nutritional intake is what you take in over the course of an entire day, not just one meal. Never skip meals during the day just to “save up” for your night out. If you arrive at the restaurant ravenous, you will probably eat more than you intended to, and you will probably have a harder time making healthier choices. Instead, eat light meals throughout the day, and have a snack such as yogurt or fruit in the late afternoon. Choosing a restaurant that prepares foods to order will help give you more control of what you eat and will make it easier to make special requests. This means passing up the all-you-can-eat buffets. Do some homework, and call ahead to a restaurant you plan to visit to ask about the menu and how food is prepared.

An order of twelve buffalo wings can weigh in at up to 700 calories and 48 grams. An order of eight stuffed potato skins with sour cream can add up to 1,260 calories and 95 grams of fat. A fried onion bloom (serving size of three cups) with dipping sauce can add up to 2,130 calories and 163 grams of fat. Plan on skipping the appetizer and just going straight to the healthy meal.

Obstacles at the Salad Bar

The salad bar always seems like a safe bet, but be aware that it can be a pitfall of excessive calories and fat if you are not careful. Choosing a large variety of vegetables and fruits can add to your day's intake of essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. However, depending on what foods you choose, your salad bar plate can still add up to 1,000 calories or more. Excessive calories at the salad bar usually come from regular salad dressings, cheese, bacon bits, croutons, nuts or seeds, olives, and other side dishes such as macaroni salad, pasta salad, creamy soups, and even desserts. To help control your trip to the salad bar and make it a healthy one, use plenty of fresh vegetables as the base of your salad. By choosing dark-green leafy lettuces, such as romaine and/or spinach, over iceberg lettuce, you can add more essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Stick with lower-fat or fat-free salad dressings if you tend to eat a little salad with your dressing. Add protein to your salad plate by adding lean meats such as turkey, chicken breast, or egg whites; legumes such as chickpeas; or crabmeat. Add low-fat cottage cheese, other low-fat cheeses, and yogurt to add a calcium boost. Go easy on those mayonnaise-based salads, such as potato or macaroni salad, that always seem to be there, and stick to fresh fruits for dessert.

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