Eating out, rather than dining in your own galley, is big business. Global foodservice sales topped $2.6 trillion in 2012 and are expected to reach $3.4 trillion by 2017 with the fastest sales growth happening in the Asia Pacific and Latin American regions, according to data provided by Market Research Company Euromonitor International and Nation’s Restaurant News.
What this means is lots of opportunities to fork into everything from delicious everyday to exotic fare. Yet one big problem is that eating out today can be a belly-busting, stick-to-your-thighs affair.
One reason is catastrophic calorie choices. For example, one of the winners in the 2014 Xtreme Eating Awards is the Red Robin Gourmet Burger chain’s A.1. Peppercorn Gourmet Burger. The 1,679 calories in the “monster” burger – two beef patties topped with hardwood-smoked bacon, Pepper Jack cheese, A.1. Peppercorn spread, tomatoes and breaded fried onion strips – is two-thirds of a whole day’s calorie requirement for many men and women.
Add to this the bottomless steak fries that are served alongside, plus a Salted Caramel Milkshake “monsterized” with a refill tin and the whole meal adds up to more than 3,500 calories. That’s nearly two days’ worth of calories.
This is also the amount of calories it takes to create one pound of body fat.
Secondly, many restaurants serve portions gone wild. One of the most famous is The Big Texas Steak Ranch restaurant in Amarillo, Texas. Down a 72-ounce (4.5-pound) steak along with the rest of the meal – shrimp cocktail, baked potato, green salad, roll and butter – in one hour and your dinner is free. But it sure isn’t calorie-free. The estimated 5,400 calories is enough to keep you fueled for three days.
Third, choices galore is the pitfall of the endless buffet table. Several years ago the Las Vegas Hilton set the World’s Largest Buffet with 510 items. This included more than 100 salads from Thai noodle to Waldorf, some 40 varieties of hot and cold soups including borscht and lobster bisque, 12 types of meat from BBQ ribs to salmon Wellington and fried alligator, and more than 150 desserts.
A few years later, the Art of Living Foundation in Ahmedabad, India, set the Guinness record for the largest buffet with a stomach-boggling 5,612 different dishes.
So what can you do to eat out healthfully? Here are six tips:
1. Skip buffets. Instead, select restaurants where you can order a limited number of la carte items or those that serve a three- or four-course prix-fixe menu.
2. Control portions. This can be hard when a restaurant’s reputation is based on ample servings. Ask for half-size entrees. If they can’t do it, try ordering from the kid’s menu. Or request a doggie bag and box up half your dinner to enjoy the next day.
3. Trim extra calories. Order baked, grilled, broiled or poached entrees rather than fried. Ask for gravies, salad dressings and sauces on the side. Request two veggies when you have a choice of sides rather than one veggie and one starch such as potatoes, pasta or rice.
4. Curb the bread basket urge. It’s better to eat a piece of fruit 30 minutes before dining out in order to quell a ravenous appetite or order a cup of broth-based soup for an appetizer than to eat through the bread basket they set out on the table. This is especially true if this pre-meal bread is served with plenty of butter or olive oil.
5. Don’t drink. Muzzle the desire to guzzle calorie-laden beverages. Daiquiris, coladas and other specialty drinks may contain as many calories as your entrée. Instead, opt for a glass of wine and savor it slowly through the meal.
6. Put desserts on a diet. Unless it’s a fresh fruit cup, order one dessert and four spoons or forks. This way, you can enjoy the taste and maintain your waist size, too.
Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and a regular contributor to The Triton. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.