Ask how your food will be prepared
If it’s going to be sautéed with oil or butter, or topped with cheese, request that a smaller amount be used. You can also scan the menu for clues as to how your dish will be prepared, says Thomas. If it’s described as baked, braised, broiled, grilled, poached, roasted, sautéed, steamed or stir-fried, it’s probably a better choice than something that’s basted, breaded, buttered, creamed, deep-fried or stuffed.
Seek nutrient info before stepping out
Let’s say you’re at Boston Pizza and you want to make a healthy choice: instead of the Spicy Perogy pizza (what you really want), you go for the Crispy Chicken Pecan Salad. Smart decision, right? Wrong. The pizza may have 920 calories, but the salad has almost 1,200! Or maybe you’re lunching at Milestones and instead of a burger, you opt for the leaner-sounding Spicy Thai Chicken Roll-up. Little do you know, you just traded 690 calories for 1,050! (And that’s not including salad or fries.) “At restaurants, be on the lookout for sneaky foods that seem healthy but really aren’t,” says Maria Thomas, a dietitian in Vancouver.
Get the facts first: Nobody wants to waste 1,150 calories on a salad (numbers like that are reserved for cheesecake!). Luckily, many restaurants now post nutrition information online and even feature handy calculators to help you plan your meal.
Google it: If the restaurant doesn’t put calorie-counts front and centre, search online to see how your favourite entrées and ingredients stack up. Or invest in a purse-sized calorie-count book so you can make informed decisions anytime, anywhere.
Follow the 20-minute rule
Allow 20 minutes to savour your entrée, then simply put your fork down, says Anneke Vink, a dietitian in Victoria. If 10 minutes pass and you’re still hungry, keep eating, but once you put the fork down, it usually stays down.
DO leave some behind
A restaurant is no place to clean your plate, says Thomas – especially when most entrées are big enough for two (or more!). Consider a top sirloin dinner at The Keg: An 8-oz steak complete with Caesar salad, vegetables, mushrooms and a baked potato with butter and sour cream packs 2,025 calories – more than you need in an entire day! Avoid too much of a good thing with these portion-control strategies:
Divide and conquer: Wrap up half your entrée and take it home, or better yet, ask them to split the portion before it even gets delivered to your plate. Not only does this cut your calories in half, but tomorrow’s lunch will be ready to go.
Order one less dish than the number of people at your table: Dinner for four? Choose three fabulous entrees, request four small plates and then serve up family-style. Not only does this keep portions in check, but you get to sample three delicious dishes instead of just one.
Take time to chew: We know, it’s hard not to inhale that plate of calamari, but a University of Rhode Island Study found that women who chew each bite 20 to 30 times consume 70 fewer calories per meal than those who take a less restrained approach. Chewing also allows time for food aromas to activate the parts of your brain that signal fullness.
DO Balance out a splurge
Indulging at your favourite restaurant? Really fun. Feeling bloated and guilty after? Not so much. Here’s how to minimize the damage:
Brunch: Go ahead, order that spinach and feta omelette – but trade your homefries for salad greens, your white toast for whole-wheat or rye, and add a side of fruit.
Sides: Craving fries but feel like you should get the salad? Split the difference by ordering a half portion of each.
Dessert: Need to satisfy a sweet tooth? Order something decadent (like key lime pie!), take a few bites, then pass it on – as far down the table as possible.
Fast Food Survival Guide
At the mercy of the drive-thru? Here are some smart substitutions to help you deal:
Breakfast: Tim Hortons
Instead of: Sausage, Egg and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich, Wheat Carrot Muffin and a medium French Vanilla Cappuccino (1160 calories, 60 g fat, 1850 mg sodium)
Try: English muffin breakfast sandwich with egg and cheese, Strawberry Yogurt & Berries and a medium coffee with milk (415 calories, 13 g fat, 690 mg sodium)
You save: 745 calories
Instead of: McChicken sandwich, medium French fries and a medium Strawberry Passion Awareness Fruitopia (1,070 calories, 44 g fat, 1,080 mg sodium)
Try: Spicy Thai Chicken Salad and a 200-mL carton of 1% Partly Skimmed Milk (320 calories, 5 g fat, 30 mg sodium)
You save: 750 calories
Instead of: Southwest Taco Salad and a medium Coke (960 calories, 41 g fat, 1,690 mg sodium)
Try: Chicken Caesar Salad (hold the croutons) with Light Classic Ranch Dressing, baked potato with chives (hold the sour cream) and a bottle of water (560 calories, 14 g fat, 1160 mg sodium)
You save: 400 calories
Need a fast-food fix? Order from the kids’ menu: A cheeseburger happy meal from McDonald’s has almost 400 fewer calories than a Big Mac meal.
Master any menu with these tips for healthy dining around the globe:
DO more: Marinara (tomato sauce), marsala (wine sauce), primavera (veggies)
DO less: Alfredo (cream sauce), parmigiana (made with cheese), cannelloni (stuffed with cheese)
DO more: Sushi, sashimi, brown rice, salad, edamame, soba noodles
DO less: Tempura, katsu and agedashi tofu (all deep fried!)
DO more: Soft tacos, burritos, salsa,
DO less: Cheese, sour cream, guacamole, nachos (a platter can pack more than 2000 calories!)
DO more: Tandoori chicken, vegetable curries, dals (legume dishes)
DO less: Butter chicken, samosas, naan bread
DO more: Satays, cold salad rolls, tom yum (hot and sour soup), steamed rice
DO less: Deep-fried spring rolls, coconut-milk curries, fried rice