When trying to decide whether to eat out or stay in and cook, consider the potential health advantages and disadvantages of each. Eating out, while typically less nutritious than eating in, doesn't have to be truly unhealthy. You can also prevent dietary boredom and increase the health benefits of eating in.
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A major advantage to preparing your meals at home is the ability to control ingredients. Knowing exactly what ingredient and how much you are putting into your food can help you make healthy choices. Cooking at home can often lead to better portion control as well, in which you can regulate the amount of food served for dinner.
The main disadvantage to cooking at home is the potential for getting into a food rut. Eating the same healthy foods repeatedly is not necessarily healthier than eating non-nutritious foods. According to the Mayo Clinic, eating a varied diet is the best way to provide your body with essential vitamins and nutrients.
Although dining out can be a fun experience and may introduce you to foods you might not otherwise eat, it can have some negative nutritional drawbacks. Many restaurant meals are are portioned excessively, and some can contain as much as an entire day's worth of calories. Eating meals out also limits your ability to know the ingredients in your food. Restaurant meals are also typically higher in calories than are home-cooked meals, and are often much higher in sodium owing to additives and large amounts of salt in recipes.
What to Avoid
Eating out doesn't have to be unhealthy. You can take several steps to make restaurant dining more nutritious. Avoid eating a full plate at one sitting because of the the large portion size of restaurant meals. Avoid meals high in fat, such as cream-based pastas and sugary and fried foods. These meals are typically calorie dense and offer little nutrition. Instead, look for meals that provide nutrients from vegetables, fruits and whole grains and are made with lighter sauces such as balsamic vinaigrette or marinara sauce.
When dining at home, try to avoid unhealthy, pre-packaged meals, as they are typically less nutritious and have more sodium and calories than do home-cooked meals. Whether you're enjoying a salad at home or in a restaurant, be mindful of the potential fat content of salad dressings. A salad topped with a few tablespoons of high-fat dressing can contain as much as 400 or 500 calories.
When eating out, cut back on the calories by ordering half of a meal packaged to go before being served. This strategy can help prevent you from overeating and also provides you with an easy lunch or dinner for the next day. If you order food with a dressing, request the dressing on the side so you can control how much goes onto your food.
You can make eating in healthier, too. Shop for a variety of foods, and try to include a new ingredient in your cooking each week to prevent boredom and increase your nutritional exposure. Explore new recipes, ingredients and regional cuisine to help you consume a wider variety of foods. When you prepare meals, ensure they contain fresh produce, whole grain carbohydrates and protein and are low in saturated fats and sodium. The website Fruits and Veggies More Matters suggests filling as much as half your plate with produce at each meal.