Americans spend between 34 and 48 percent of their food budget on meals away from home, according to a 2010 publication by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you eat restaurant meals on a regular basis, you may find it difficult to maintain your weight due to the tendency for these items to be high in calories and fat. Learning how to make wise choices while dining out may help you avoid consuming too much sodium, fat and calories.
The food choices you make when you eat out may affect your weight, cholesterol levels and blood pressure. A 2009 study published in the journal "Obesity" found that of over 7,000 fast food restaurant purchases, the average meal contained 827 calories, and more than 33 percent were over 1,000 calories. Sandwiches purchased in combination with drinks and a side dish averaged more than 1,200 calories a meal. If your ideal caloric intake is 2,000, a 1,200-calorie lunch is more than half your daily calories.
Fast food and sit-down restaurants often feature enticing salads on their menus. Salad greens and vegetable toppings are low in calories, unless the restaurant adds breaded and fried meats, high-calorie sauces, fried croutons or large amounts of cheese. Some restaurant entree' salads have over 800 calories, according to a publication by the American Institute for Cancer Research. Choose salads with lean, grilled skinless chicken or steamed fish rather than salads topped with fried chicken pieces. Ask the server to leave off the cheese and to bring the dressing in a separate bowl. Select fat-free or low-fat dressings, if you have a choice.
Main Dish Entrees
Portion size and preparation methods present a challenge when choosing low-calorie entrees. Restaurant meals often offer cuts of steak and pieces of chicken that are double the recommended 3- to 4-oz. size. Pasta entrees may completely fill your plate, making the calorie count prohibitive. Share an entree with your dining companions, ask the server for a smaller portion and choose entrees which offer plain grilled meats with little or no sauce. Select pasta entrees with red instead of white sauce, eat only half the pasta and have a small green salad instead of a buttery roll.
Even if you successfully order lower-calorie entrees, appetizers and side dishes can add unnecessary calories to your meal. Think of unending bowls of tortilla chips, free rolls and buns and fried seafood or cheese appetizers as unnecessary. If you want an appetizer, ask for a raw veggie tray with fat-free dressing. Order side dishes such as potatoes with fat-free sour cream or butter on the side. Substitute salad or fruit for French fries, choose baked chip bags over fried and ask the server for suggestions on lower-calorie side dish options.