By Michelle Jaelin
Canadians are spending more of their food dollars dining out.
The most recent data from Statistics Canada released in 2019 reported that 54% of Canadians dine out or order take-out food once a week or more. Convenience and socializing are the top reasons for dining out, with most dining out meals being lunch and dinner.
And why not? Dining out simplifies life for most Canadians. According to the most recent data from Dalhousie University and University of Guelph, Canadians will continue to dine out more. Also, 57% of Canadians use nutrition information to make healthier choices while ordering food – emphasizing how Canadians want to eat healthy.
However, because dining out is becoming more commonplace, viewing each meal as a “treat” or “special occasion” ideally needs to change. This is not to say birthday celebrations, anniversaries and retirement parties are no longer special. It just means making smarter choices when ordering off the menu. Here are my registered dietitian approved tips for eating out:
Top Tips for Dining Out
Balance it out.
What part of the meal do you enjoy the most? If it’s french fries, pair it up with grilled chicken on greens. Do you love the cheeseburger? Pair it with a vegetable-based soup instead. The idea is not to give up what you love the most, but balance it out with healthier choices.
Choose fibre rich foods.
Vegetarian meals tend to be higher in fibre, vitamins and minerals and lower in saturated and trans fats. When dining out on the go, sometimes I will pick the vegetarian option because often those choices will contain more vegetables, fibre and nutrients. Or I aim to add extra vegetables, beans or lentils as my side dish.
Rethink your drink.
Opt-out of sugar-sweetened beverages and go for soda water, unsweetened tea, and water infused with fruit instead of pop, juice or alcoholic drinks. Alcohol tends to have lots of empty calories without providing much nutrition.
Pick your protein.
Choose lean proteins such as fish, chicken, pork, beans or steak more often over-processed meats such as bacon, sausages and cured meats.
Skip the sodium.
Restaurants are known to prepare foods with lots of added sodium. Ask for your meal to be prepared without salt. It’s difficult to get a low sodium dish when dining out, but at least you can reduce it.
Trade things up.
Don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions. Does that sandwich come on whole grain bread? How about steamed vegetables instead of the loaded baked potato? Restaurants are often happy to accommodate your wishes as long as you ask nicely!
Focus on the big picture.
Healthy meals should include vegetables and fruits, but let’s face it – sometimes the restaurants we dine at just don’t have those options. If your dining out meal lacks fruits and veggies, incorporate them throughout the rest of the day. Snack on cucumbers, carrot and celery sticks and try having fruit such as orange slices for dessert. Remember, when it comes to nutrition, focus on the big picture. The overall healthy eating pattern is what matters the most!