Defensive “Diner” Dining

We all have our reasons for dining away from home. Be it business, social, or just no time to cook-Americans eat an average of 4-5 meals on the run and away from their own homes every week. Research seems to support that the more meals eaten away from home, the more likely those meals are too high in sodium, fats, and calories. Those unplanned calories from dining away from home could easily translate to a larger pants size in no time. If you find it necessary to eat out more than once a week, start some smart eating strategies to help keep your pants size in check.

As is the case with all intelligent eating, it is necessary to manage your dining experiences away from home. It is always a good idea to plan your options in advance if possible.

Here are some practical tips for doing so:

  • Look for restaurants or carry-out options with a range of menu items. That way, those that choose to eat healthy will have more choices!
  • Consider choosing your restaurant after checking some valuable websites such as
  • Consider reviewing menus online prior to getting to the restaurant.  Even if the nutrition information is not available, you can pre-plan your best healthy eating options and strategies ahead of time.
  • When deciphering a menu, opt for entrées which are grilled, roasted, braised, poached, steamed, or baked.  Avoid entrées which are described as pan-fried, creamy, crispy, buttered, and battered.
  • Order the regular or smaller sized options if available, since a normal restaurant entrée is usually enough food to feed 2-3 people! The large portions justify the menu price.
  • Split a menu item to share at the restaurant.
  • Consider ordering an appetizer as your entrée.
  • Ask that high calorie dressings be served on the side and control how much you eat.
  • If offered bread, ask that it not be served.  We have a tendency to overdo the calories from bread prior to our meal.  This translates to too much extra sodium and too many calories.  Adding the fresh butter to the bread is another calorie pitfall.
  • Request the “people” bag or foam box come when the meal is served. Take half of the meal and put in the bag or container before you dig into your plated meal!

You can also practice making good food substitutions. The more often you do this, the easier and more natural it becomes. If you eat out often, it is a good idea to know how to make healthier substitutions almost instinctively.  Here are some simple food substitution strategies to slash your calories and filter out the sodium and fat from your restaurant meals:

  • Ask if light salad dressing is available, but expect that it probably is not, and consider bringing your own pre-packaged light dressings if you enjoy salads and eat them often when dining out.
  • Always replace those fries and chips with fresh fruit or a baked potato.  Both options will be lower in sodium, virtually fat-free, and loaded with potassium and fiber.
  • Remember that calories come from beverages as well.  Alcoholic beverages can have a lot calories and increase your appetite to boot!  Consider calorie-free substitutions such as sparkling water in a wine glass or a sugar-free soda.

With some advance planning, menu decoding, and eating action plan you can enjoy both your cuisine and physique!


A Healthy Splash of Color

Coloring is not just for kindergarteners, but chefs as well.  Foods can range in color from white to black, and even adults should think about how to utilize color when planning healthy meals. The color of food is determined, in part, by the types of chemicals found naturally in foods.  These compounds are called phytochemicals, which is Greek for plant chemicals.  What scientists have come to believe is that these natural plant chemicals serve to protect plants from disease.  If we eat the plant, we also get some sort of health benefit from these same plant chemicals.  In fact, these phytochemicals are emerging in scientific research as key players in regulating health.

The roles of phytochemicals are wide ranging- from protecting our genetic material to fighting inflammation, aging, and disease.  In addition to imparting color to our food, they often confer the specific smell a food emits upon cooking, such as that odor emitted from cooked broccoli or cauliflower.

Some colorful foods and their phytochemicals include:

  • Red foods.  Lycopene colors foods red.  It is found in all tomato based foods, pink grapefruit, guava, and watermelon. As our bodies absorb lycopene best when it is heated and cooked with some oil, Italian cuisine is wonderful for boosting our lycopene load.  Lycopene it thought to confer health benefits by acting as an anti-oxidant.
  • Blue foods. Anthocyanin colors foods dark red to blue.  It is found in cherries, blueberries, red grapes, raspberries, red cabbage, and cranberries to name just a few.  In addition to being anti-oxidants, anthocyanins appear to reduce cholesterol production to help keep our arteries clear.
  • Orange foods. Beta-carotene colors foods orange.  Beta-carotene rich foods include cantaloupe, acorn squash, carrots, pumpkin, guava, mango, sweet potatoes, and apricots. Beta-carotene rich foods are converted to vitamin A once eaten and serve as dietary anti-oxidants.
  • Black foods.  Polyphenols help color foods black.  Foods rich in polyphenols include prunes, dates, blackberries, figs, raisins, and black beans. Black foods are particularly high in anti-oxidants!
  • White foods.  White foods like garlic, scallions, onions, and leeks contain the phytochemical allicin.  It provides the odor emitted when garlic is cut.  Allicin may protect against certain cancers as well as decrease blood pressure.
  • Green foods. Green foods contain chlorophyll which may mask other colors such as the orange color of beta-carotene. It is safe to say that green colored foods contain a wide array of many types phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals.

Coloring your diet with a wide spectrum of colors is an easy path to a great quality diet.  What colors did you eat today?

“Beat the Clock” Feeding Strategies

Did you ever think about how your organizational skills, or lack thereof, impacts the quality of your diet? As healthy meals do not magically appear on the dinner table, thinking through how to pull this off takes some semblance of planning.  You most likely have been in the situation where you had no food to pull a meal together, and that became the excuse to dine out or order in. Poor planning when it comes to grocery shopping can lead to the same scenario. If you are constantly relying on food prepared by others, chances are pretty good that you are eating way too many calories and too much sodium, total fat, and saturated fat!  Do this too often, and your overall health will eventually decline while your waistline goes the opposite direction.

One key aspect to following a healthy diet is actually time management, and applying your time management skills to your food related activities.  Considering the huge impact a healthy diet has on your health, it seems wise to budget a certain amount of time to being able to feed yourself and your family appropriately.  While eating is basically instinctive, healthy eating does need some thoughtful planning.

Here are some suggestions that I have made throughout the decades while counseling my nutrition clients:

  • As dinner is typically the most problematic meal, take about 20 minutes on the weekend to map out your dinner eating strategies for the entire work week. This advance planning allows you to think through your evening commitments and plan appropriately, as you will need to keep it simple if you need to run off to school or an evening meeting.  For the tough evenings, you can plan on cooking ahead or purchasing already cooked entrees such as a roasted chicken. Or, with mindful planning, you can use a slow cooker.
  • For the instances when there really is no time or energy to pull off a decent cooked  meal, planning is helpful once again.  Having a well stocked kitchen can allow you to eat a healthy meal without any effort.  There is nothing wrong with cereal, milk, and fruit for dinner or a sandwich and fruit.  Such labor-free meals can easily have the same nutrients as a hot meal.  Granted, a hot meal is more comforting, but nutritionally speaking it really makes little difference to your health!
  • While most people say they like fruits and vegetables, very few people eat the 5 servings a day recommended by the National Cancer Institute.  I have concluded, in part, this is due to the fact that fruits and vegetables can take some time to prepare and even eat.  A little planning and preparation for the week’s menus can cut down on the struggle to find the time during the week to get these foods into your diet.

The noted photo is from an organized mother of an infant and toddler.  She works full-time and still manages to feed her family an extraordinarily healthy diet.  As you can see, with her well thought out eating strategies for the week, she is ready to start cooking with either a slow cooker or on the spot when arriving home.  All she needs to do is pull her ingredients out of the refrigerator to pull this off.

Her family will be dining on Rose Family Baked Stew ( and another family favorite of penne pasta with chickpeas, tomatoes and low-fat feta cheese.  She will also be serving several slow cooker recipes including African sweet potatoes with red beans and rosemary chicken with white beans.

Once we learn to manage our food related activities as well as we mange our work and recreational activities, we are on the way to reaping the enduring health benefits of good nutrition.