It’s possible to eat healthy even if you’re busy and grabbing food on the go. Regional One Health’s clinical nutrition team has some advice for making healthy choices at restaurants.
Aim for items that are grilled or baked, eat reasonable portions, and fill up on healthy choices like salads or veggies.
Remember – a little planning ahead can help you stay on track, even if you aren’t cooking most of your meals at home.
Finding fast, easy and tasty foods that fit both your busy lifestyle and your healthy-eating goals can be key to staying on track.
Fortunately, Regional One Health’s clinical nutrition team and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics can point you toward smart choices whether you’re picking up carryout, visiting a food court or cafeteria, or going out for a sit-down meal.
Here are their suggestions for making healthy choices on the go:
Read menus carefully
If possible, plan in advance to eat somewhere with a wide range of menu items.
Take your time looking at the options (many restaurants make their menus available online) and see if there are selections specifically marked as “healthier” choices. You may even be able to review and compare nutrition information at some restaurants.
Even if the menu doesn’t designate the healthy items, you can look for clues. Words like baked, braised, broiled, grilled, poached, roasted and steamed are good signs.
On the other hand, foods that are batter-fried, pan-fried, buttered, creamed, crispy or breaded are higher in saturated fat and calories. Choose these foods only occasionally and eat small portions.
Watch portion sizes
In general, opt for a regular or child-size portion. A lot of restaurants have mega-sized servings that are way more than you need.
Make smart choices at buffets and other restaurants by filling up on vegetables, looking for baked or grilled meats, and being watchful of extras like salad dressing or sauce.
If a large serving is your only option, consider splitting with a friend, taking half your meal home as leftovers, or ordering an appetizer as your main course. If you want something sweet to end your meal, split a dessert with the rest of your group.
Don’t overdo it on extras
Don’t fill up on bread or chips before your main course. Instead, start with a healthy cup of soup or salad and then choose a lighter item for your entrée.
Limit alcohol to one drink for women and two for men. Alcohol has a lot of empty calories, and it can also increase your appetite.
Adapt menu items
It’s OK to make some simple special requests, like subbing a baked potato or side salad for chips or French fries; or removing the mayonnaise or bacon from a sandwich. Ask for salad dressings and sauces to be served on the side so you’re in control of how much you eat.
Even foods you might think of as unhealthy don’t have to be. Pizza can make a great meal if you opt for vegetables and lean meats, like Canadian bacon or chicken, as your toppings. Sandwiches get healthier if you use wholegrain bread or a tortilla wrap, lean meat, mustard and other low-fat spreads, and lots of veggies.
Be smart about buffets
All-you-can-eat options can be hard to navigate. Avoid them if you can, and if you can’t, try to fill up on salad and vegetables first so you don’t overindulge in less healthy foods.
Pizza can be a healthy choice if you top it with lean meats, vegetables and light cheese. Just remember to keep portion sizes reasonable by sharing with a friend or taking some home for leftovers.
Use small plates to encourage smaller portions and limit your trips through the buffet. Identify some healthy “go-to” dishes from a variety of cultures so you can easily find the healthy options when you’re presented with dozens of choices.
Eat well on the go
If you’re eating on the run or at your desk, you can find plenty of healthy options:
- Make or buy a smoothie with 100 percent juice, fruit and low-fat yogurt.
- Keep single-serve packages of wholegrain crackers, fruit, peanut butter, soup and tuna around for a quick lunch.
- Don’t keep snacks, like a bowl of candy or nuts, at your desk.
- Good supermarket deli selections include rotisserie chicken, lean roast beef, salad-in-a-bag and fresh bread.
- Snack smarter by stocking up on granola bars, fresh fruit, trail mix and single-serve packages of wholegrain cereal or crackers.