Dining Out: Prioritizing health without sacrificing fun and flavor

By Jenni Wolf

Considering nutrition and health while dining out can feel confusing. Eat this, don’t eat that — there are so many ideas and schools of thought on this topic. Because I believe all foods and eating experiences can fit into the definition of healthful eating, I’d like to offer three tips that will help keep you eating well without making any foods off limits or sacrificing fun, flavor or the overall experience. We have so many great little gems in our neighborhood to grab a bite at, you won’t want to miss out!

Don’t delay eating to “save up” for a meal out

I see this a lot — people skipping or skimping on meals and snacks before enjoying a meal out. This might seem smart in theory, but we are biological creatures and need regular and adequate amounts of food throughout the day. Skipping lunch to save up for dinner can lead to overeating at mealtime, leaving you feeling stuffed and uncomfortable, and can encourage all-or-nothing thinking.

Think about it: if you have a small lunch, you might feel inclined to finish your dinner entrée because you “saved up for it” rather than stopping when you feel satisfied and full. Overriding our fullness cues can lead us to over consume energy and specific nutrients, increasing our health risk.

Instead, make sure to eat regular meals and snacks before and after a meal out — most of us need to eat something every three to four hours.

Ordering family style makes it easier to ”think in thirds” and build your own balanced plate. Photo by Jenni Wolf.

Check in with your hunger, fullness and satisfaction cues

Take some time before ordering to check in with yourself and notice how hungry you feel and what flavors or textures might sound good. Take another moment mid-meal, and towards the end of the meal, to assess how your hunger (fullness) level has changed. This allows you to order whatever you want, enjoy it so that your truly get enough of it, and then stop when you feel satisfied and content.

But how do you know what satisfied feels like? That is the number one question I get. Figuring that out takes some practice. I recommend checking in with your cues every day — before, during, and after meals — because everyone feels satisfaction a little bit differently. As you practice, here’s a helpful tool:

“Think in thirds.”

Imagine your plate divided into thirds, then shoot to fill one-third with a carbohydrate (french fries, pasta, a burger bun), one-third with a protein (chicken strips, meatballs, a burger patty) and one-third with a source of produce (carrots and ranch, minestrone soup, a garden salad).

If your meal comes “combined,” such as a burger with lettuce, tomato, onion and fries — visualize what it would look like to fill those thirds. That might mean leaving some fries on your plate, ordering a side salad to round out the produce, and/or taking some of your burger to go.

The important thing to remember is that the tool of “thinking in thirds” is just that: a tool. Sometimes you might not want a full third of produce, and sometimes you might want more than a third of carbohydrate and that is okay.

Using the tool helps you figure out what you do want AND what would feel good in your body rather than just going on auto-pilot, ordering and eating the portions and variety you usually do. This guideline can help to make sure you are giving yourself what you need and what you want, without getting too much or too little of any one nutrient.

So now it’s time to call a friend for lunch or make a dinner date and put into practice these tips at a local Como eatery — enjoy! 

Jenni Wolf, a practicing registered dietitian, is passionate about helping others nourish a positive relationship with food.

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