Keep nutrition in mind when dining out

Alright folks, let’s continue our discussion from recently concerning our dining habits and how it affects our waistlines, our pocketbooks, and our family dynamics. I pointed out last week the detrimental effects of the decline in family meal times. Let’s pick up from there and explore why we are spending less time dining together in the home and the effects this is having on us.

Families seem to spend less time at home these days with work, commute times, after-school and social activities. I say it “seems”, because USDA studies indicate that average Americans over the age of 15 spend 5.8 hours (males) and 5.1 hours (females) in at-home leisure time activities such as watching television, reading, exercise and socializing. So, we have the time to prepare meals at home. It seems that often the “want to” isn’t there. Oh yeah, guys! Why more down time than the ladies? That is another article for another day. We were talking about spending money eating out.

It just seems that it is easier to eat, and we are willing to spend the money necessary to have the convenience. I can remember as a child that our family of seven ate out approximately once a month, and that eating out was usually tied to an after-church activity. My, the times have changed, this South Georgia farm girl’s son feels deprived if he doesn’t get fast food two or three times a week. I used to have some control on that frequency, but he’s 17 and has his own transportation now. From the evidence on his floorboard, I would say that two or three times a week has increased greatly, and his cleaning habits have not improved with age either. The mystery to me is the fact that he eats at school daily, has a home cooked meal every night, and maintains a 29 inch waist.

I sit here with my brain spinning from all these statistics I’ve read, but the long and short of it is that we are eating out more and it shows! You would be hard pressed to go a week and not hear something about our current childhood obesity epidemic. So what are we going to do? Restaurants and fast food places are not going to disappear, they are a modern day convenience, and face it, the food tastes pretty good. The responsibility is upon us to make wise decisions and teach good nutrition to our children and grandchildren. Thankfully many of the chain dining establishments are offering healthier alternatives on their menus. We just need to give them a try.

Here are some tips on making healthier choices when dining out.

Give the HUGE burgers a pass and go with a simple hamburger or cheeseburger. We teach a concept called portion distortion and many people are surprised when I tell them the proper portion size of a fast food meal is actually the kid’s meal. Gasp!

Other tips include going broiled and not fried, whole wheat buns, forgo the cheese and Mayo, try a small salad with oil and vinegar dressing as the side instead of fries. Try making small, healthier diet changes and see if they don’t help your health and waistline.

Suzanne Williams is the FACS agent at Dougherty County Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at (229) 436-7216 or suzanwms@uga.edu.