Home Conscious Consumerism How To Dine With Nutrition In Mind

How To Dine With Nutrition In Mind

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Once upon a time, I used to work at a certain restaurant… that shall remain nameless. Not out of their protection, but because the experience was so awful, that I think mentioning their name today might ruin my good morning.

I was a server – even pinned as one of the best they had, thank you very much! – who occasionally donned a cape and tights and helped out the kitchen staff by handling some tasks they were too busy to manage. One of these, was plating the cheesecakes. That’s just taking the cheesecake out of the box (You didn’t think the cheesecake you paid only $7 for was made from scratch right there, did you?!), putting it on a plate, covering it with saran wrap, and setting it on a cold shelf.

At this restaurant in particular, the cheesecakes came from The Cheesecake Factory. And this box in particular had the nutrition information on the side. Apparently, 1 slice of cheesecake had.. oh, 954 calories and 56 grams of fat. Did your head explode? Mine did. I think I spent the rest of my shift picking up my face… and moving twice as fast through my tables to burn off that cheesecake I ate earlier that day.

Needless to say, you’re not thinking about any of that when you order, but is it the reason why you might be packing on the pounds? Below, I’ve listed things I’ve learned from being on both sides of the table, from franchise to fine dining.

Hey, it paid the bills.

Don’t dine out. You might think I’m kidding, but I’m not. I betcha five dollars your parents, at your age, didn’t eat outside of the home anywhere near as often as you do. Just take a moment to remind yourself that you DO have food in the house. Even though you may feel like eating a six course meal yet still don’t feel like COOKING a six course meal, this isn’t an excuse to hit the nearest sit-down restaurant. It’s a reason to drink a glass of water, and think of something quick and filling to cook at home.

Have the server bring you a to go box WITH your dinner upon arrival. Why? Split the dish in half, put half in the to go box, and put the to go box AWAY. Trust me – you won’t need to eat all of it at once.

Drink water – yes, water – throughout your time out. It takes about 20 minutes for your mind and body to connect on whether or not you’re full… so drinking water gives your body time to make this determination without it resulting in you being OVERstuffed. All bad.

Don’t order appetizers as dishes. I know, they feel like suuuuch a bargain – inexpensive in comparison to the rest of the menu, lots to offer, super yummy.. I know. They also carry enough calories for more than one person. Add to that the fact that almost all of ’em are fried, creamy or coated in oil? You’re better off going back to #1 up there.

Skip the table breads, chips or crackers. The stuff they give you to tide you over until your order comes? Yeah, ignore that. You might even be better off asking them to take it away. By the time your appetizer has arrived (if you ordered one), you’ve eaten around an additional 300 calories. Restaurants do this because they know there’s sometimes a long wait time, so to keep you from ticking off the server they give you this. Not an awful idea, but definitely a hazard to someone trying to cut down.

Avoid the creamy and fried dishes. The creams and frying oils are nothing but an abundance of heavy excess unnatural fat. Be real with yourself – if you can’t split the dish in half and ONLY eat one half of it? Make some changes. Go for the red pasta sauce, or no sauce at all – skip the pasta altogether and find something else. Skip the chicken fingers or fried egg rolls, and opt for something lighter.

Drop the dressings and sauces. I know this ties into the previous point, but in a lot of cases, the additional dressings and sauces are just as many – if not more – calories as the dish itself withOUT the sauce. In many places, you can ask them to drop the sauce or the cream. I’m good for ordering a pasta with no alfredo (and I LOVE alfredo) and just getting noodles, chicken, a little butter, and lots of spices. Hey, it works for me. You might not need to be that drastic – you could opt for the tomato sauce, instead – but don’t feel bad or weird if you do.

Don’t dine alone. Go with friends, chat, enjoy yourself. Tying in with an above point, this gives your body time to process that food is being put inside of it, and if you let go of the “I must clean my plate” philosophy while really listening to your body, you’ll be surprised by how little you’ll actually eat.

If this seems logical-yet-way-too-restrictive for you, be sure to see point #1 again. 🙂

All jokes aside, you’ve got to be vigilant about being a healthy eater. So it means yes, you’ll need to be conscious of when your hand reaches for something you have no business eating. You’ll need to spend a little longer thinking about what you’ll eat. You’ll need to take some time  And considering how much assistance you’ll need from your waiter, be sure to tip them nicely for helping you make it through the night without gorging yourself. If you’re careful to avoid ordering the rough stuff on the menu, you might notice the healthier dishes are among the least expensive (no outrageous ingredients to justify the cost), so you should have enough money left over to drop something nice for the waiter. 🙂

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Reecie January 19, 2010 - 2:25 PM

I actually follow a lot of these tips, especially not eating the bread, not ordering appetizers, fried foods, and drinking water. good post.

Atiyah January 21, 2010 - 9:26 AM

I was surprised to find how many calories a ‘lean white’ turkey burger had without the cheese–and I thought I was doing well. It was still ridiculous

Nikki January 21, 2010 - 8:56 PM

I am so guilty about eating out a LOT!!! I’m in desperate need of ideas on what to cook at home that’s healthy for me and my child.

Stephanie Danforth January 31, 2010 - 1:51 PM

I confess….when I found this article I was on my way to Wendy’s to get something bad for me. After reading this I still went to Wendy’s but I got a salad with no dressing instead. Thank you for stopping me.

Helena Thornton February 17, 2010 - 11:52 AM

Again great tips.

Shannon January 25, 2011 - 8:21 PM

Skip the cream sauce? Nooooo lol. I think your first tip was the best. If I’m not going to try the specialty (usually fatty and sublime) I’m not going to go. I know a lot of people report “having to go” , like for a work event or with their friends, and the advice listed is good for that. Thanks!

negritude January 25, 2011 - 9:17 PM

Great tips as usual…esp the 1 about getting a to-go box WITH your food. Another tip would be to order a salad straightaway (no extra dressing, please (smile)) while you decide on what to eat. This along with drinking water will help avoid eating too many extra calories.

Marissa payne June 24, 2011 - 10:12 PM

Great post! My girlfriends have been trying to get me to go to happy hour at some restaurant but since I started eating a clean diet I have been scared. This has really helped me! Thanks E!

milaxx June 26, 2011 - 3:18 PM

I actually eat out quite a bit so I had to quickly learn how to do this successfully because as you have mentioned hundreds of times this is a lifestyle change not a diet. My life has always been one where we met for coffee, drink , do lunch or try a new restaurant for dinner. If I didn’t figure out how to handle this, my lifestyle would fail because it’s such a deeply ingrained part of my daily activity. After reading a few blogs such as yours I did just things you mentioned; no bread, water with my meals, avoid fried foods and cream sauces. I also always order a salad no, cheese or croutons and either get the dressing on the side or ask for oil and vinegar. There are a few restaurant chains that are simply off limits. Cheesecake factory is one, but so far I have been able to safely eat and enjoy myself while still dining out with friends.

Vee February 20, 2012 - 8:12 PM

Wow thanks for posting. I know for me bread and chicken Alfredo pastas are my weakness…howver I skip the bread . I will try the Alfredo with a little butter and no sauce with spices.

I always get water with my meals so it helps keep me full.

Erika Nicole Kendall February 21, 2012 - 9:35 AM

You mean the fettucini with a little butter, lol. The fettucini are the noodles, the Alfredo is the pasta. Just trying to help because I don’t want you to order a big bowl of sadness. LOLOL

Eat.Style.Play June 5, 2012 - 4:20 PM

I’ve practically stalked most resturants pages for nutritional info say if i’m invited to a friends dinner, or i’m going for myself and i tell you, it make you not want to dine out at all. The salt alone makes my skin crawl as someone with blood pressure issues. In fact today I looked at Au Bon Pain and ended up risking my TMJ on raw veggies then eat there. Ladies, research before you go, at least if you’re fine with that intake of salt, you can at least be prepared, and now that they are enclosing the calories right next to the dishes on the menu this has stopped me from going big time.

Aja July 17, 2012 - 2:14 PM

Great tips! I would also add checking the restaurant website for nutritional info before going. I’ve found that some of the things that I would be inclined to choose because I would think they would be smarter choices are still pretty high in calorie content. One day I decided to check the nutritional info on a grilled chicken pecan salad that I always ordered trying to do the right thing and found out that it was about 1,000 calories! Now on the rare occasion that I’m going out to eat I’ll check the website and know what I’m ordering before I get there; I have a better idea of calories and it also helps me not be as tempted by a less-healthy option.

Sophie July 22, 2012 - 9:16 AM

Just discovered your site by following you on Twitter! Nice post and right-on. It’s encouraging to see more and more people of color thinking more critically about their food choices and eating habits. Excess weight is no joke with many negative ramifications for the body. I am following you happily!

Jojo satoes January 28, 2013 - 7:04 PM

Always drink lime soda now, unsweetened carbonated water with lime. Tres refreshing and calorie free.

Jacquelyn Viall July 19, 2013 - 8:09 PM

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