At the beginning of 2017, the Ontario Healthy Menu Choices Act came into effect for all foodservice chains with 20 or more locations in Ontario. The introduction of this law requires foodservice providers to post on menus the number of calories in all food and drink items they sell. The intention behind this law is to help individuals and families make more informed choices about what they consume when eating out. Grocery items have had nutrition fact labels for some time; however, when out at restaurants it made it more difficult to understand the impact of those meals on caloric consumption.

Deciding between an Experience Meal or Fuel Meal

I find myself in this dilemma every time I am confronted with the numbers despite having worked with nutrition information for the past 20 years. Each time I eat at a restaurant, I have to decide if I will choose based on meal enjoyment (experience meal) or based on health and nourishment needs (fuel meal). Ideally, you should select items that meet both needs, but we know that is not always the case. There are times when you may need to choose between an experience meal and a fuel meal.

For example, a few weeks back I was out at a popular burger restaurant with my family and some friends. I found myself reviewing the menu and thinking, “will this be an experience meal or a fuel meal?” because I found the caloric information quite alarming compared to what my daily caloric intake should be.

Another part of the Healthy Menu Choices Act is the requirement for the menu to have one of the following two statements:

  • Adults and youth (ages 13 and older) need an average of 2,000 calories a day, and children (ages 4 to 12) need an average of 1,500 calories a day. However, individual needs vary.
  • The average adult requires approximately 2,000 to 2,400 calories per day. However, individual calorie needs may vary.

What does this mean? A typical restaurant meal generally starts at 800+ calories, which would be 40% of my caloric intake if I was eating 2000 calories a day! I have seen meals listed as 2000 or even 3000 calories, which would match or exceed one’s entire recommended caloric intake for the day. So, what do you do? How do you choose what to eat when eating out?

Tips to Choose Wisely & Eat Healthy When Eating Out

1. Plan ahead for the meal.

Review the restaurant menu ahead of time to see the selections and options available. This eliminates any impulse decisions and lets you feel in control of the ordering process.

2. Ask for condiments, sauces and dressings on the side.

This way you have control over the extra calories in your meal. Salad dressings and sauces can add unnecessary and hidden calories to your otherwise calorie-conscious meal. The amount of “extras” is often in excess of what you need and it is better to have control over the portion consumed.

3. Don’t arrive at the restaurant hungry. Hunger will always make a poor choice.

4. Limit bread, butter or oils prior to the meal or avoid entirely.

5. Don’t cheat yourself and leave hungry.

Let’s keep it real; you should be able to enjoy a nice meal outside of the home; it should be a treat. Ordering a salad because the numbers look right may not be smart if it leaves you unsatisfied and hungry. Choose options that you like and are excited to eat; just don’t be afraid to ask for a smaller portion or less sauce.

So, what did I do at the burger restaurant?

Taking my advice, I was not starving and picked the bread, the meat and the toppings. Each choice had a caloric value, so I could add up what I wanted to fit my meal caloric goal. I opted for a chicken breast, no bun, and toppings but decided that I really wanted the sweet potato fries as my guilty pleasure.

When my meal came, I have to admit; it looked quite bare and sad compared to my husband’s burger and salad. But when I finished it, I did not feel hungry, and I was happy that I got to fit in the sweet potato fries.

Eating healthy at a restaurant can be overwhelming. Over the past few years, I have become the authority on healthy eating on the go for Canadians with digestive disorders. I also help busy people and families create menu action meal plans including offering gluten-free options. Please check out our new website and services to see how I can help you and your family!

I’ve given you five simple tips to make an informed decision on your next restaurant visit. How do you make choices? Do you track your daily intake? What do you think of a service that allows you to seek menu advice in the moment? You are unique; one size does not fit all. Sometimes we need validation, permission and accountability.

Keren

What tips resonate with you?

Do you feel confident that you can eat healthy while eating out?

Leave a comment and let me know.