I recently moved back to the United States, and one of the things I was looking forward to before I arrived was the food. Moving to the South, where it’s all about fried food and barbeque, believe it or not, I was looking forward to eating all the fried goodness I could get my hands on. Before I left Greece, my friend had an app on her phone that had ALL the American chain restaurant menus and their nutrition facts on it. Being a dietician this was extremely exciting for me until…I had the biggest shock of my life!
I know that these restaurants don’t exactly serve the healthiest foods, and fried foods definitely wouldn’t have the same calorie content as a piece of fruit, but I couldn’t quite believe that most salads had around 1,500 calories, I mean, that’s almost how much I should be eating in ONE DAY! So, needless to say, I was slightly traumatized by the rest of the numbers I looked at for actual meals and the fried foods I was so looking forward to! But that hasn’t stopped me eating out over here. Instead, I just have to be a little bit more careful to balance out what I eat.
Being back in the US, I can now understand how a salad can have that many calories (even though a cup of lettuce has less than 10 calories)…it’s the dressing. Not only are salads usually covered in so much grated cheese and greasy croutons, but the salad dressings, especially the creamy ones, are the main culprit. I will never forget the time my dressing came in such a big bowl that I thought it was soup! If I actually used all of it, it definitely would have been over 1,500 calories! Over here, you should always ask what dressings the restaurant has, if it is not listed in their menu. Ask for the dressing on the side, and use only enough to give it flavour. Opt for the “light” options or vinaigrettes, as this will actually keep your salad relatively healthy.
The first thing that you notice when eating out at any restaurant in the US is definitely the portion sizes. Forget all about “large” portions in Europe, these are HUGE! The thing I enjoy most about eating out here though is that I always have enough left for at least another meal, if not two. I have to admit that I do like that it is socially acceptable to take your leftovers home with you, and almost encouraged. Sometimes you’ll even be asked if you “want a box for that” when you only have a few bites left, but still, you are given that option. This unfortunately is not as common in Europe, at least I have not found it to be. Perhaps it is because the portions are not as large, and I’m usually able to finish my meal in one sitting. So boxing up your leftovers, and knowing that you don’t have to clean your plate, is a great way to keep your portions under control over here.
If you are watching what you eat, or if you have any special dietary requirements, you are certainly able to find things that suit your needs anywhere you go to eat in the US. At the moment, most, if not all chain restaurants over here have nutrition facts available online. So, if you are planning on going out to eat at any chain, you can always check online and see the nutrition information, and other information such as whether the food may contain any allergens, or if it contains gluten or lactose. For smaller restaurants, like a family owned restaurant, or fine-dining, you can usually ask the waiter what ingredients are used, and most restaurants will often allow substitutions, unless you are eating at our new local Italian place where the native Italian chef does not allow any of that…what is on the menu, is what you get!
One of my guilty pleasures eating out here is the cocktails. I absolutely love having a cocktail with my dinner or some appetizers. Cocktails are usually a great source of empty calories, something that provides calories but no nutrients. Luckily, I have discovered that most cocktails can be created as “skinny”, which have less sugar, and therefore fewer calories.
Finally, when it comes to desserts you are quite spoiled for choice over here. If I happen to have a little space left in my tummy by the end of my meal, I am not one to pass up a little sweet treat. Desserts in the US are usually also supersized. If you are eating with friends, try sharing a dessert between a few of you, this way you can have a nice treat without overindulging.
Although it is definitely a society where most things are “supersized”, you may find yourself watching what you eat a little more over here, but there are certainly ways you can still enjoy eating out and avoid packing on any extra weight.