Sixty or seventy years ago, eating out in a restaurant or buying takeout food was practically nonexistent in our community. A kosher eatery was very rare in those times, most people probably weren’t able to spend any extra money on what at the time was an extravagance. Even in the non–Jewish world, the idea of fast food style restaurants had not yet infiltrated our culture. (McDonalds only started in the early 1950’s and it took a while in order to manifest itself into becoming a norm of society). But today, every type of Glatt Kosher Mehadrin min HaMehadrin eating establishment exists and there are many to choose from. Going out to eat has also become the norm for much of the population and is no longer very expensive.
Another new norm is obesity and an obsession with weight management. And myriad options present a challenge to our overall health and most definitely to keeping our weight in check.
Let’s look at the problems encountered when eating in a restaurant. A regular full course meal in a fine restaurant is actually enough food for 6 people. Food establishments compete with each other not only in the quality of the food, but also in the quantity. The average 4 course meal in a better restaurant today is enough food for about 3 people. So tip number one-either share your food with someone, or, try ordering just a bowl of soup and an appetizer instead of an entrée. Also, don’t be shy, ask the waiter for a doggy bag right at the beginning of the meal and take home half for another day. See if half portions or children’s sizes are available.
But portion size is only one issue. How food is prepared is certainly a huge consideration. Restaurants generally are concerned with taste and the presentation of their food. They are usually not concerned with the caloric content of what they serve and they don’t care too much about the nutritional factors involved in how they prepare or cook their food. Restaurants use more unhealthy fats, sugars and salt than most of us would use in our own kitchens. Flavor enhancers such as MSG are also very common-particularly in oriental-style places. MSG often leaves a person with a headache and bloating and if there is a strong sensitivity or allergy to it, the effects can be more severe. Choices that contain the words, “Alfredo”, Breaded”, “Creamy”, “Crispy”, “Tempura”, or Parmigiana” always indicate a high-fat, high-calorie content. Instead, look for the words, “steamed”, “poached”, “ roasted”, “boiled”, “grilled”, and “baked”.
Ask how certain dishes are prepared. Many seemingly healthy choices are prepared with margarine or butter. Ask for the vegetables without butter, sour cream, and high-fat sauces. When going to Sandwich Shops, just cut the sandwich in half and save the second half for the next day. At a fast food outlet, go for the grilled chicken instead of that double burger. At Salad Bars, avoid the marinated and oily salads. If you go for the Pizza, order healthy toppings and less cheese on the pizza. If you like Chinese, request that your vegetables be stir fried or steamed with as little oil as possible.
Most times, eating out is either a social occasion or a meeting of some nature. That also means you are sitting around the table for a long time a much longer time than one normally would need to eat. And with a bread basket sitting in the middle that is often refilled, or in a middle eastern style eatery you might have a variety of dips and salads on the table to start, it is quite easy to exceed normal caloric intake before you ever get to the main course. Take a slice of bread or two and make sure that bread basket doesn’t come near you again.
Prepare yourself before even entering the restaurant. If you know ahead of time that you will be eating out, start cutting back on your daily consumption even two days before. See if you can access a menu BEFORE you go so you can see what healthful choices you can choose from. Don’t arrive very hungry. That will surely put you in overeating mode. Drink plenty of water before you start the meal to keep you full and hydrated.
Desserts are a particular problem in fine restaurants as they are usually very rich, very high in calories and often time contain non-dairy whips and creamers that are loaded with trans fats and chemicals. Mousses, cakes and chocolate delights are indeed tempting and usually they look great; they often look better than they taste. But better restaurants also offer fresh fruit for dessert or you can just skip it altogether (and save some money too!).
Fast food establishments are even more challenging health-wise. Even the “fresh” salad bars are sometimes sprinkled with the highly allergic sulfites in order to preserve the vegetables. But if you are in a situation where you must resort to fast food, keep your portion sizes under control and go for the leanest choices. Order “small” as opposed to medium or large sizes. Drink water instead of colas and other sweet drinks.
Eating out can be and should be an enjoyable experience. After all, you don’t have to wash the dishes and clean up and you don’t have to cook and serve. So, enjoy the company and the ambience, but at the same time, don’t harm your health. Making healthful and smart choices when eating out will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”
Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a LIFESTYLE FITNESS COACH with over 18 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! along with Linda Holtz M.Sc. and is available for private consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org Check out the Lose It! web site – www.loseit.co.il
For more healthy tips when eating out, visit Jewish Action.