Do you know what you’re eating when you eat out? Probably not entirely. Chefs design dishes to have the maximum taste impact. They want you to leave saying that was the best meal you’ve ever had and then return soon. They're not so worried about your health or your waistline. How do they get their food to taste so good? Mainly, two things: fat and salt.
Chain restaurants are required to post calorie content. Some numbers are shocking and I’m not talking about the no-brainers that you expect to be high, but rather the entrées that seem a moderately good choice at first glance. Ruby Tuesday’s chicken and broccoli pasta is 1,564 calories, and has 3,187 mg of sodium (keep in mind that most adults should be shooting for 2,000 calories and 2,300 mg of sodium per day). Romano’s Macaroni Grill has a crusted sole at 1,120 calories and 870 mg of sodium. Chili’s "Quesadilla Explosion" salad has 1,400 calories and 2,320 mg of sodium.
But all is not lost. Here's how to read between the lines to order lighter whether you're out at a chain or eating haute cuisine:
• Beware things noted as crispy, creamy, escalloped, in gravy, pan-fried, tempura, confit, or au gratin.
• Minimize high-fat meats: sausage, cured meats, pork, duck, and red meat.
• If ordering steak, T-bone and sirloin steaks are among the leanest cuts.
• Choose grilled, steamed, poached, or broiled.
• Fish and seafood are generally good choices. Even if there are extra calories in the preparation, at least fish comes with a serving of healthy omega-3 fats.
• Substitute veggies for French fries. Even finished with butter, vegetables are still way healthier.
• When you go for fast food or a big chain, most likely it’s for convenience, not a world-class meal. Make an effort to order lightly. The calorie counts will be posted and available online, so you really have no excuse.
• Get your meal to order: Ask for sauce and dressing on the side, no extra butter, etc.
• If you want to indulge a little, share something with the table.
• When out for a special occasion (if more than once a week you may want to redefine “special”), you don’t need to feel like a scene out of When Harry Met Sally. If you want to eat the meal as the chef intended, sauce right on top and lots of butter, then it’s all about portion size.
• Assume you are taking half of your meal home before it even arrives. When you see the plate, make a mental line down the middle and know that the rest of it is tomorrow's lunch.
• Try an appetizer and a side dish as your meal, like soup, shrimp cocktail, or mussels, and a side of vegetables.
Following are ten things to look out for when eating out that will sabotage your health, and efforts to keep you caloire intake low.