Keeping meals proportionate, healthy tips for eating out

Kelly Burgess

Have you ever gone to a restaurant, ordered something that sounded appetizing, and had something totally unexpected placed in front of you on the table? This is the story of my life, and it is almost comical now.

I remember the first time I went to Zaxby’s–I was young and not very hungry at the time, so I decided to order a salad–you know, something light. I had never made a less accurate assumption–I unknowingly ordered a mountain of food that could have fed three of me, and I was overwhelmed!

Surely I am not the only one this has happened to. Some restaurants pride themselves on “generous” helpings, and “heaping” portions of items “smothered” in sauces and toppings. Although it may sound tasty at first, these menu items may, however, be detrimental to our health.

What is a serving in the first place? A serving is the recommended amount of a food that a person should consume in one setting. The recommended serving size for meat and fish is 3 ounces, which is about the size of a deck of cards. To put that into perspective, at O’Charley’s, the small servings of grilled salmon or sirloin steak are both 6 ounces. That is double the recommended serving size, but would you notice that when they brought out your dinner plate?

For most vegetables, the recommended serving is 1/2 cup, or about how much would fit in a cupped hand. I don’t know about you, but if I ordered mashed potatoes and green beans as my “sides” at a restaurant, I would probably be a little surprised if an amount this small was on my plate. Most restaurants will surely offer a more generous “portion” than that.

Portion distortion is something that many people may not even be aware of; after all, didn’t your mom always tell you to clean your plate?

Why does it matter that sometimes we get more than what we bargain for when eating out? Enlarged portion sizes could be the cause of consuming more calories than you expect, especially if eating out is part of your normal routine. What then are we to do? There are a few smart tips to making the most of your restaurant experience without compromising your health.

One thing I like to do if I am ordering a meal larger than what I would like to eat in one sitting is to cut my food in half or divide it on my plate before I even begin eating. I set the extra aside, and plan to ask for a box to take it home for lunch the next day.

Another healthy strategy is to ask for dressing, sauces and “add-ons” on the side so that you can control the portions. For example, a “loaded” baked potato may come with much more butter and sour cream than you would normally use, so you can modify your intake by adding these toppings yourself.

One of the most simple but often forgotten techniques is to listen to your body when it tells you it feels full. Remember that you don’t have to eat everything all at once, even if your mom encouraged it when you were young.

There are so many ways to enjoy fun meals out and stay healthy too. Just remember to keep your food proPORTIONate!