Learn to make eating out a healthy experience

The Alberni Valley features many wonderful restaurants to choose from. The variety of establishments can appeal to Port Alberni residents and visitors to our community.

  • Feb. 10, 2011 11:00 a.m.
Consider ordering a green salad as a side dish

Consider ordering a green salad as a side dish

The Alberni Valley features many wonderful restaurants to choose from. The variety of establishments can appeal to Port Alberni residents and visitors to our community.

We eat out at restaurants for various reasons and at different times. Sometimes, we go out to eat due to convenience, other times it’s a planned event, or simply part of our daily or weekly routine.

We may feel like we want to get our money’s worth out of the experience; we also like to try new and different tastes, or sometimes just eat to fill the hunger gap until the next meal.

Whatever the reason you choose to go out for a meal, there are certain methods to make your dining experience more nutritious and fulfilling for healthy living.

Health pitfalls of restaurant meals typically include factors such as foods tending to be higher in fat, calories, and sodium. In addition, meals are usually bigger than standard portions.

Generally, meals eaten away from home lack nutritional powerhouses such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and milk products. This leads to less than ideal amounts of calcium, fibre, vitamin C and D consumed. Eating out on a regular basis without thinking about nutritional benefits can lead to increased waistlines.

Over time, this can raise your risk factors for chronic diseases, such as high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.

Tips for eating out

Some tips to keep in mind for improving the nutritional impact of your restaurant meal include:

u Ask for dressing/sauces/dips on the side

u Order a small portion, or half order, kids’ or seniors’ sizes or share the regular portion with a friend

u Choose a side meal as vegetables, salad or clear soup instead of fries

u Forgo the ‘complimentary’ white bread/bun

u Choose lower fat milk or 100 per cent fruit juice instead of soda or pop

u Beware of super-sizing menu options

u Instead of ordering meat, try a vegetarian meal

u Skip the dessert, or order one and share it.

If you know you are going out for dinner, try to eat more vegetables, fruit, low fat milk products and whole grains through the earlier part of the day; do not “save up” for the dinner meal, since you will likely overeat due to hunger.

One way to satisfy the craving for that something special that you don’t normally have at home, plus a healthy option, would be to order two appetizers, instead of one big meal.

In addition to filling you up without over stuffing you, this combination would likely be gentle on the pocketbook.

For children, just going out for a meal can be a special event. The balance of nutrition and treats can be met by ordering milk for a beverage or ice water in place of pop or other sweetened drinks, and ensure that they have at least one colourful vegetable that is not deep fried as part of their meal.

Planning ahead and discussing your expectations in regards to meal choices with your kids may help to keep ordering time less confusing.

Sandra Gentleman is a registered dietitian and has worked in a variety of settings on Vancouver Island. She is passionate about healthy, active living.

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