Nutrition Column – Eating Healthfully on the Run

Breakfast from the drive-thru at McDonalds, lunch out of a vending machine and dinner at your favorite sit-down restaurant. Sound familiar? Whether it’s fast food, take-out or a fancy restaurant, eating out has become part of the American lifestyle.

Today, food is available at almost every turn, whether we’re at work or school, in the mall or at our favorite bookstore, taking in a cultural event or cheering on our favorite team. While many of the foods available at these venues are high in fat, salt and sugar, you can make wise food choices. Here are some tips on how to make eating on the run a healthy experience:

– Take time to look over the menu. Read the fine print for clues on how the entree will be prepared and ask questions if you’re not sure about what you’re ordering.

– Choose fried foods only sometimes. Go for the grilled, broiled and steamed foods more often.

– Order the regular or kid-sized portion if available. Mega-sized servings are probably more than you need. Some restaurants offer small plates, reduced-sized versions of their regular meals.

– Ask for a side salad or baked potato instead of fries or mashed potatoes.

– Split your order with a friend. Many restaurants will provide you with an extra plate for a small charge. If this isn’t an option, cut the entree in half and ask the waiter for a take-home container.

– Check out the appetizer section. It may offer just the right amount of food.

– Go easy on condiments, special sauces and dressings on sandwiches and salads. Ask for dressings on the side and use only the amount needed. Mustard, catsup, salsa, and reduced-calorie spreads and dressings are generally low in fat but often high in sodium.

– Enjoy ethnic foods like Chinese stir-fry and vegetable-stuffed pitas that come with lots of vegetables.

– At the salad bar, pile on the dark green and red leafy greens, carrots, peppers and other fresh vegetables. Lighten up on mayonnaise-based salads and high-fat toppings.

– When presented with your meal, eat your vegetables and other lower-calorie foods first. Soup or salad is a good choice.

– Pass up all-you-can-eat specials, buffets and unlimited salad bars if you tend to eat too much. If you do choose the buffet, use the small plate and fill up on salad and vegetables first.

– Look for a sandwich wrap in a soft tortilla. Fillings such as rice mixed with seafood, chicken or grilled vegetables are usually low in fat.

– Be sizewise about muffins, bagels, croissants and biscuits. A jumbo muffin has twice the fat grams and calories as the regular size.

– Don’t forget about fresh fruit. It’s easy to pack and provides a quick pick-me-up with plenty of fiber.

– Refrigerate any take-out or take-home containers that won’t be eaten right away. Toss out perishable foods left at room temperature for more than two hours.

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by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension