Logan Mencke

Staff Writer

“Just one meal away from home each week translates to about two pounds of weight gain every year, so that’s where our problem is,” Renee Cooper, a registered dietitian, said during an informational session on healthy dining options held in College Center room 240 at Lorain County Community College on April 19.

The meeting addressed the growing trend of people who eat out more frequently rather than cooking their own meals.  Half of the U.S. population eats out three meals or more per week, while 12 percent eat out seven or more meals a week, according to Cooper.

A major factor with weight gain from eating out comes from the high number of calories in meals served by restaurants.  One serving of boneless honey BBQ wings from Applebee’s has 1240 calories and a serving of bruschetta from Olive Garden has 950 calories, according to Cooper.  Even the supposed healthier options have a high number of calories; a pecan crusted chicken salad from TGI Friday’s has 1080 calories.

In addition to having a lot of calories, these meals also have a very high amount of sodium as well.

“I would be more concerned about the sodium, that’s where we get a lot of our problems with blood pressure and heart disease,” said Cooper.

Cooper presented attendees with several strategies on how to combat unhealthy decisions and make better choices. During the session, she also passed out restaurant menus, then asked the attendees to select which meals would be the healthiest option.  Healthy snacks were also available.

Most importantly, meals and snacks need to be planned ahead of time so people don’t go the easier route with eating junk food.  Many restaurants have online menus with nutritional information that can be looked at ahead of time.

Cooper also provided a handout to attendees with a list of healthy, quick-stop lunch options that can be bought from a grocery store.

There are several reasons people are dining out more frequently, Cooper said. She shared a few of these reasons which she learned from her patients and clients. First, people often create an emotional connection to food. Going out to eat at a restaurant brings people the enjoyment of companionship while socializing with friends or family, Cooper said.

“We have to find a way to make a disconnect between the emotional part of it and the reason why we actually use food, which is for fuel and energy,” said Cooper.

Other issues are that people develop a reward-based system, where food is the ‘treat’ they receive for something they have accomplished, like getting good grades, according to Cooper.

The most common reason for eating out is the lack of time to cook their own meals.  People claim to be so busy with other things in their life that they don’t have the time to prepare a meal, cook it, and then clean up afterward.  This is particularly true for families where both parents have jobs.

Healthy tips

ν Consider your drink:

Choose water, unsweetened tea, and other drinks without added sugars to complement your meal. Keep in mind that many coffee drinks may be high in saturated fat and added sugar.

ν Savor a salad:

Start your meal with a salad packed with vegetables to help you feel satisfied sooner. Ask for dressing on the side and use a small amount of it.

ν Share a dish:

Share a dish with a friend or family member. Or, ask the server to pack up half of your entree before it comes to the table to control the amount you eat.

ν Customize your meal:

Order a side dish or an appetizer-sized portion instead

of a regular entree. They’re usually served on smaller plates and in smaller amounts.

ν Customize your meal:

Pack fruit, sliced vegetables, low-fat string cheese, or unsalted nuts to eat during road trips or long commutes. No need to stop for other food when these snacks are ready-to-eat.

ν Quit the “clean your plate club”:

You don’t have to eat everything on your plate. Take leftovers home and refrigerate within 2 hours.

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture