Week 4: Day 4

2021 Wellness Program “The Beauty Chef”


5:45pm, Sunshine Grindz


Americans Love Eating Out

There’s no question about it: Americans eat outside of the home a lot! In fact food and meals prepared outside of the home have become an increasingly large percentage of the American diet. In 1970, meals purchased outside of the home represented approximately 26% of all the dollars spent on food. In 2012, the percentage of dollars spent on food prepared outside of the home increased to 43%. The food and drink sales reported by the restaurant industry for 2013 was 659 billion dollars!

Why is it that we have a love affair with dining out? Well, the answer to this question is multifaceted. Many things have changed over the last few decades and societal changes have crossed over into our eating behavior as well. For one thing, the number of food service establishments in the U. S. has doubled since the 1970’s. Today we are continually exposed to new foods, more variety and new menu items in more places. A recent study reported that up to 20% of people have at least some of their meals in their cars. Changes in our workforce, including more two-income families, or women working outside of the home has increased demand for more take-out and prepared meals. We talk to clients every day who say their demanding work schedules are the main reason they eat out so much; there is simply not enough time to prepare meals. Add to that a pleasant restaurant atmosphere, camaraderie, and the chance to eat something really delicious, and it’s easy to see why restaurant eating is so important to us.

While this American food trend is unlikely to change, there have been consequences linked to it. A number of food surveys and studies have shown correlations between the increased frequency of dining out and obesity. Many restaurant meals have a much higher in caloric density than foods prepared at home. According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, each meal consumed away from home increases an adult’s average daily calories by 135 calories. And, in case you haven’t noticed, the portions are quite a bit larger too! It stands to reason that if you eat out often, you are quite likely to gain weight. Someone who eats out five times a week can pack on 10 pounds in a year!

Throughout the Wellness Program, we have encouraged you to eat more meals from home. The reason is simple; less calories, less fat, and better weight control. This does not mean that we are encouraging total abstinence from the restaurant scene. With a good plan for how you will handle meals outside of the home, you can continue to enjoy meals out, without the negative consequences.

Plan Ahead for a Healthier Culinary Experience

Like all other aspects of wellness, being prepared before you enter a restaurant is your best strategy for healthy eating. Start by looking for establishments that offer a variety of menu items and appear willing to make substitutions or modifications on your request. “All-you-can-eat” restaurants are not good choices for helping you stick to your plan. Instead look for menus that offer well-stocked salad bars, grilled items and seafood.

Once you arrive at the restaurant, you will want to set the tone for what’s ahead. The time before you actually receive your meal is often when mindless eating (and extra calories) occurs. You can prevent this by having a small snack before you get to the restaurant. This strategy is very helpful because you will not arrive excessively hungry. It will also help you to steer clear of all the extras that arrive at your table before the meal comes: bread baskets, tortilla chips, etc.

When ordering, avoid making split second decisions. By having decided ahead of time what to order, you can stay on course. If possible, try to place your order first. When you listen to what others are ordering, you may be tempted and change your mind. A la carte menu items can work to your advantage. Many combos or platters come with all the extras like French fries, high calorie sides or dessert. Ask for your food not to be prepared with butter, cream sauces or oil; get salad dressings on the side. Starchy food options like potatoes, French fries or pasta can often be replaced with one or two orders of a vegetable. Lastly, if it’s possible plan to order one course at a time, do it! Remember, you may truly feel hungry at the start of a meal, but as you work your way through the meal, you may want to take a moment to re-assess your hunger. After eating the first course do you really want the soup or the large portion entrée or even dessert? If you take your time and don’t rush through a meal, you may not really want all of the “extras.”


Look for the Healthier Offerings: Check out the Menu and Ask Questions!

While healthy dining out be challenge for most of us, it does not have to feel so overwhelming. Many think it is not possible to enjoy a night out and eat healthy at the same time. Not so! It is definitely possible for everyone to make smart menu choices and have a delicious, fun experience that you feel good about afterwards!

First, plan ahead. Just like grocery shopping, don’t arrive hungry. Many try to “save up” room in their stomachs by eating less during the day, but this will make it very hard to make rational and healthy choices. Eat your other meals earlier in the day like you always do. This idea bears repeating: Have a healthy snack filled with fiber before you arrive with help you avoid cravings and impulse decisions. Some examples of snacks before going out to eat might include vegetables and hummus or an apple with peanut butter.

Next, look at the menu ahead of time. Many restaurants have their menus available online. Take advantage of this. Plan what you are going to have so that when you arrive at the restaurant, you theoretically won’t need to open the menu and face what could be otherwise tempting. This will help prevent those last minute or impulsive decisions that could cost you calories! If you are making reservations, this is the perfect time to inquire about preparation methods or willingness to accommodate your requests. By calling ahead, you can learn what options you have available to you.

Descriptions can say it all!

Now, just as you’ve done at the grocery store with learning to read labels, it is important to learn how to read the menu of various restaurants. Many restaurants have elaborate menus with detailed descriptions of the meals they offer. These can be complex and difficult to understand, leaving it hard to find a healthy meal. While one universal language is not set to describe the dishes of various places, a few terms are commonly used in reference to both ingredients and the way they were cooked or prepared. Understanding these terms can become a large help and relief when trying to identify the healthier options.

These dishes are typically higher in fat. Steer clear of menu items containing words like:

  • Buttery
  • Au gratin
  • Butter/Cream sauce
  • Alfredo
  • Fried
  • Breaded
  • Cheesy
  • Mayonnaise
  • Drenched
  • Béarnaise
  • Scalloped
  • Battered

Dishes with higher sodium content typically use words such as:

  • In broth
  • Marinated
  • Smoked
  • With soy sauce
  • Pickled
  • Barbecued

Also, proceed with caution when you hear terms like “super-sized,” “extra value,” or “all you can eat.” While they may sound like great offers, smaller servings are often the better choices.

Look at the preparation technique!

In earlier modules, we touched on the importance of cooking techniques, because how a meal is prepared can make or break you healthy eating plan. Preparation is everything! You will want to become familiar with the food preparation methods that not only create something delicious, but also keeps the food healthful and without excess calories or fat.

Healthier cooking techniques you should lean toward are:

  • Broiled
  • Steamed
  • Roasted
  • Poached
  • Grilled
  • Baked
  • In a tomato/marinara sauce
  • Vinaigrette dressings

Calories Really Matter!

More often than not, restaurant or take-out food is much higher in calories and fat compared to home prepared foods. This is why we continue to favor more home prepared meals. But you can still enjoy dining out without all of the extra calories is you discuss your needs with the restaurant staff. Don’t be afraid to be assertive and ask questions any time you go out to eat. Restaurants value your business, and if they want you back, they will do what they can to meet your needs. If you are uncertain about the ingredients used in a dish or how it is prepared, a good staff will make this information available to you. If you are having a hard time telling if a menu item is a healthy choice, try asking the following questions:

  • How is the dish prepared?
  • What ingredients are used in this dish?
  • Is the fish fried or grilled?
  • How large is the portion served? Do you offer half portions?
  • Has salt or seasoning been added?
  • Is butter, oil, or margarine added? If yes, how much?
  • Can I substitute a salad or steamed vegetables for the French fries?
  • Can I have the sauce/dressing on the side?

The bottom line is to plan accordingly and order strategically. You can find nutritious options on nearly every menu if you know what to look for. With a little knowledge and preparation, you can make a restaurant meal healthy. Read into not only what ingredients make up each meal, but also how it is prepared. Small changes can really make the difference when you go out to eat. You’ll still be able to enjoy the foods you both want and love without abandoning your health.


Restaurants Featuring Ethnic Menus

One of the enjoyable parts of dining out is the chance to try out new foods from different cultures. Although we Americans like our traditional foods, there has been an emergence of restaurants which feature meals from other cultures or ethnic origins. The good news is that many cultures make full use of the healthful whole foods we have been encouraging throughout the Science of Change™. However, for just about all types of foreign foods, there will be some choices that are more healthful than others. Here’s a guide to help you make those distinctions.

Italian: Most Italian food dishes contain large amounts of pasta, which although low in fat, can add calories and extra carbohydrates fast! Cheese and creamy sauces such as Alfredo sauce add a large amount of fat and calories to meals. Try to choose dishes made with grilled chicken or seafood. Choose lighter sauces such as marinara, Marsala, and Piccata. Instead of fried appetizers such as fried calamari, choose roasted peppers or eggplant caponata. Choose Italian ice over rich baked desserts.

French: Many French dishes are made with butter. Choose dishes prepared “nouvelle cuisine” or “Provencal” tomato and herb based entrees, as these are lower in fat and calories. Ask for French onion soup without the extra cheese. Watch out for sauces such as hollandaise, Mornay or béchamel. Wine sauces or reductions are flavorful and lower in calories. Choose vegetables that are lightly sautéed or roasted.

Mexican: Mexican foods often include both fried dishes as well as healthy alternatives. Use small amounts of sour cream or guacamole with meals, as the fat calories can add up quickly. Watch out for items feature mostly cheese or fried tortillas. Instead choose baked tortilla chips with salsa, grilled meats, chicken or fish. Try fajitas, enchiladas or chimichangas without the extra cheese.

Japanese: Many Japanese foods are prepared with little or no oil, making them low in calories and fat. Choosing dishes containing chicken or seafood along with steamed vegetables can make for a tasty, low calorie meal. Avoid anything deep-fried, battered, or breaded such as tempura dishes. Opt for steamed vegetables instead of tempura

Thai: Thai food is usually low in fat and high in spices and flavor. Choose lightly stir-fried dishes and spring rolls instead deep fried and heavy sauce options. Choose lean protein sources such as poultry and seafood over duck and beef.

Indian: Many Indian dishes are prepared with ghee (a clarified butter) or sautéed in oil; therefore many dishes are high in fat and calories. Try choosing dishes that contain chicken or seafood instead of beef and lamb. Opt for vegetarian dishes that feature vegetables or lentils. Limit foods prepared with large amounts of ghee and choose dishes containing large amounts of vegetables.

Greek and Middle Eastern: Ask for your entrée to be prepared with little to no oil. Phyllo pastry dishes are high in fat, so limit items such as spanakopita (spinach pie) or baklava. Choose mixed green salads with olives and feta cheese on the side, grape leaves, or tabbouleh. Try shish kabob or chicken souvlaki. Most Greek desserts are very sweet with calories or large amounts fat. Limit the fancy desserts to special occasions or split with a friend!

All American Steakhouses: The biggest concern with meals at steakhouses is the portion of steak that you receive. Choose smaller portions of beef (about 6 ounces is right) and if possible, ask that all visible fat be trimmed off your meat prior to serving. Avoid deep fried appetizers and opt for shrimp cocktail or a salad with dressing on the side. A baked potato with sour cream on the side is a healthier choice than French fries. Check to see whether steamed or lightly sautéed vegetables are an offering.


How to Estimate Portions Served in Restaurants

When you prepare meals at home, it’s much easier to control portions because you can always weigh or measure foods when you need to. A food scale and measuring cups are handy tools to help keep portions in check. But how do you estimate how much food is on your plate when you go out to eat?

There are different ways you can make an estimation of the amount you have been served. You can use your hand or compare portions to common objects to accomplish this task.

A closed fist usually represents about the size of 1 cup. This could be used to estimate the portion of the following foods:

Food Number of Carbohydrate Servings for Diabetes
Potato, boiled, baked or mashed 1 cup = 2 carbs
Pasta or Rice 1 cup = 3 carbs
Strawberries 1 cup = 1 carb
Cut up Fruit 1 cup = 2 carbs
Ice Cream 1 cup = 2 carbs


Use your thumb to estimate portions of other foods that are concentrated sources of calories. Your thumb is about the size of a tablespoon and can be used to estimate portions of fats (butter, mayonnaise,) or other high fat foods such as cheese or peanut butter.

Tip! Because hand sizes vary according to body, size, gender, and age, it may be easier to estimate portion sizes using certain objects as your guide. This is another way you can learn to estimate portions:

  • A tennis ball = 1 oz. of dry cereal
  • A computer mouse = 4-5 ounce potato
  • A deck of cards = 3 oz. piece of meat, poultry or fish
  • Four dice = 1 ounce of cheese

Of course, all of these are just estimates, and it is unrealistic to expect that you will make exact determinations of your portion while you are dining out. The key is to take a critical look at the amount you are served, and understand that restaurants often serve dishes that are enough to feed 2 or 3 people. If the meal you order is larger than you should eat, ask for a container at the start of the meal, and put aside half of the portion and take it home with you.


Let’s recap what we have learned in this lesson. First, the more often you eat out, the more likely you will gain weight, or have trouble losing weight. Meals served in restaurants are almost always higher in fat, calories and sodium. Second, you can still enjoy meals out with a little planning ahead. Just like everything else we emphasize, success is in the plan! Call ahead and decide what you will order. Lastly, by learn the key words used to describe menu items or the preparation, and you will make healthier meal choices.





Sunshine Grindz

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