Eating Out the Right Way

For working professionals, eating out at least a few times per month is a reality. Maybe you try to avoid "fast food," but going out to grab something to eat during your lunch hour or after work can prove costly, not only to your budget but also to your figure.

If you do have to run out to get something, how do you decide between what is healthy and what is unhealthy? Tara Gidus, a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, said that people need to make reasonable choices.

"People choose fast food because it is quick and convenient and they like the taste," Gidus said. "All fast food restaurants have healthy options; you just have to have the discipline to choose the healthy options."

Gidus emphasized that you do not have to forgo a delicious meal altogether.

"A hamburger is a fine choice as well, but make sure you balance that out with a healthy side like a side salad with low-calorie dressing or a fruit cup if you opt for the burger," she said.

She also recommended laying off the mayo and going for a diet soda, and she stressed that you should "limit [the] portion and frequency of French fries. A couple of fries are fine, but a large size and doing it many times per week can do in your waistline."

Gidus also said to watch out for sauces.

"Visiting the sub shop can produce a very healthy lunch, but it can also be a calorie bomb if they squeeze on too much mayo or other creamy sauce and lay the cheese on too thick," she warned. "Go for lean meats, just mustard, and lots of veggies. Lettuce, tomato, cucumber, pickles, olives, etc., are all fine."

Once again, a salad can be a healthy option, but Gidus warned that a "packet of dressing can undo all the good you think you are doing by choosing the salad over the burger." She said that you should ask for "low-calorie or reduced-fat dressing and be aware of how much cheese or croutons are also on the salad."

Gidus said another key is not depriving yourself entirely.

"Even pizza can be an option for lunch, but I recommend not having it frequently so you can enjoy [it] without guilt," Gidus said regarding the need to go for something a bit unhealthier but still not too horrible. "Choose vegetable toppings instead of meat, and order half the normal amount of cheese; choose thin crust over thick crust. Try to have a side salad with low-cal dressing along with the pizza so you eat less pizza."

Other tips on eating out and eating right are listed below. These are courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture's website (
  • As a beverage choice, ask for water or order fat-free or low-fat milk, unsweetened tea, or other drinks without added sugars.

  • Ask for whole wheat bread for sandwiches.

  • In a restaurant, start your meal with a salad packed with veggies to help control hunger and feel satisfied sooner.

  • Ask for salad dressing to be served on the side. Then use only as much as you want.

  • Choose main dishes that include vegetables, such as stir fries, kebobs, or pasta with a tomato sauce.

  • Order steamed, grilled, or broiled dishes instead of those that are fried or sautéed.

  • Choose a "small" or "medium" portion. This includes main dishes, side dishes, and beverages.

  • Order an item from the menu instead of heading for the "all-you-can-eat" buffet.

  • If main portions at a restaurant are larger than you want, try one of these strategies to keep from overeating:

    • Order an appetizer or side dish instead of an entrée.

    • Share a main dish with a friend.

    • If you can chill the extra food right away, take leftovers home in a "doggy bag."

    • When your food is delivered, set aside or pack half of it to go immediately.

    • Resign from the "clean-your-plate club"—when you've eaten enough, leave the rest.:

  • To keep your meal moderate in calories, fat, and sugars:

    • Ask for salad dressing to be served "on the side" so you can add only as much as you want.

    • Order foods that do not have creamy sauces or gravies

    • Add little or no butter to your food.

    • Choose fruits for dessert most often.:

  • On long commutes or shopping trips, pack some fresh fruit, cut-up vegetables, low-fat string cheese sticks, or a handful of unsalted nuts to help you avoid stopping for sweet or fatty snacks.
"I like the places that offer a cup of soup and a half sandwich or salad. That gives you variety without large portions of everything," Gidus said. "Choose whole grain breads whenever possible, and skip the roll with the soup if you have a sandwich as your other half. Choose bean-based soups (black bean, lentil, minestrone, etc.) or broth-based soups. Soup is a great way to get your veggies!"

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