Eating out is a great way to socialize with friends or coworkers and can be a good option when you're just too tired to cook or haven't made it to the grocery store. As with everything though, remember: balance is key! Eating out six nights each week can get expensive and makes it harder to eat a balanced diet.
How often should I eat out?
Ideally, you should avoid eating out more than a few times a week, and fast food should be limited to once a week. It can be difficult to eat healthy and balanced meals while eating out for a few reasons:
- Restaurants often serve huge portions of food.
- Food in restaurants is often prepared with more oil/grease than you would use yourself and often contains a large amount of sugar, salt, and fat.
- Eating fast food can increase your chances for certain diseases, such as heart conditions and type II (insulin resistant) diabetes.
A person's dietary intake is averaged over a couple of days, not in a single meal. If you eat a not-so-healthy meal for dinner, try to balance it with healthier foods (fruits/veggies/whole grains and lean protein) for the next day or two.
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Tips for Eating Out
When browsing the menu, look for meals that contain:
- Lean proteins (like fish, chicken, turkey, or beans). These should be grilled, baked, or steamed rather than fried or deep-fried.
- Whole grains (like rice, quinoa, barley).
- At least 1 serving of fruits and vegetables (vegetables should be grilled, roasted, or steamed, not breaded, fried, or deep-fried).
- Keep in mind that many restaurants will substitute a side order of fries for vegetables or fruit if you ask.
- Generally, the servings at restaurants (especially big chains) are way too much for one person to eat on their own. Try setting half aside to take home before you even start eating, or share your meal with a friend. (You'll save money too!)
- Also, be mindful about refills. If you've ordered a sugary drink, like lemonade or soda, getting a refill (or two) will double or even triple your sugar intake. Instead, consider skipping the refill – even if it's free – and opt for water instead.
Don't feel the need to finish your plate. Leftovers will make a good snack later, or you can pack it as a lunch for the next day.
Split dessert. Instead of ordering your own dessert, split one with a friend or try tea or coffee to avoid all the extra sugar.
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- Sonja Swenson, public health education intern
- Nicole Aguirre, college writer
Reviewed By: Nancy Brown, Ph.D.
Last Reviewed: July 2013