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Maintain Diets When Dining Out
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Healthy diets need not fall by the wayside simply because Americans are eating out more today than ever before.
Dr. Melissa Mixon, Mississippi State University extension nutritionist, said it is possible to eat right while dining out.
"It is not difficult to eat well while at a restaurant," Mixon said. "It just requires the will power to make the healthy selections on the menu.
"Moderation is the key. Every food can fit into a healthy diet, just maybe not as often or in as great a quantity."
The National Restaurant Association recently released a study of 15,699 Americans age 18 and older. It found that in 1996, Americans ate 4.1 meals away from home each week. In 1991, the weekly average was 3.8 commercially-prepared meals.
Of the meals eaten away from home, lunch -- at a rate of 2.2 a week -- was the most popular. Dinner followed with 1.3 a week, then breakfast with 0.7 commercially prepared weekly.
But despite all the dining away from home, Americans can still keep balanced diets.
"Restaurants have taken great strides in offering health-conscious menu items," Mixon said. "Consumers are saying they want healthier foods and the restaurant industry is responding."
Tips for choosing healthy foods at restaurants include:
- Choose non-fried hors d'oeuvres.
- Order an appetizer as the main course, then add healthy sides. This offers a smaller portion than typical main dishes.
- When eating breakfast out, choose cereals or muffins. Most other breakfast items are fried and high in fat content.
- Order sauces and dressings on the side and add sparingly.
- Instead of a basket of bread, ask for a slice.
- Choose steamed vegetables when possible.
- When you're full, ask that the food be taken away. If enough remains, have it boxed for later.
- Choose fresh fruit for dessert, or on occasion, split a high calorie, high fat dessert with several people.
Mixon said skipping a meal before dining out is not good. This leaves the body hungrier with the tendency to eat more. She also suggested eating slowly and spending more time socializing.
"If you know you're going to eat a meal high in fat content, do tradeoffs," Mixon said. "Look at the whole day and your whole diet, and eat other low-fat meals to compensate.
"Normally-healthy individuals can eat whatever they want as long as they compensate for it somewhere else in their diet."
Mixon said that even though it is possible to eat well whether at home or away, more Americans are obese today than ever before. But generally, until people start eating fewer calories and exercising more, they will continue to gain weight, regardless of where and what they eat.