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Published on July 25, 2016

9 out of 10 restaurant meals pack too many calories9 out of 10 restaurant meals pack too many calories

Thinking about having dinner out tonight? That’s fine if it is an occasional event, but recent research from Tufts University is enough to make regular restaurant patrons put down their forks.

The research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that 92 percent of the entrees in both national chain and independent restaurants were oversized portions.

This means that if you finish the meal, as many diners do, you’ve probably eaten many more calories than you typically would at home.

For the study, researchers examined 364 meals from both chains and locally owned restaurants in Boston, San Francisco and Little Rock, AR, between 2011 and 2014.

A summary of their findings shows that fast food isn’t the only culprit when it comes to high-calorie meals with unhealthy ingredients:

  • More than 92 percent of the meals they studied exceeded caloric recommendations for a single meal.
  • At 123 restaurants the entrée alone exceeded the caloric requirements for an entire daym without a beverage, appetizers or dessert, .
  • American, Chinese and Italian dishes had the highest calorie count with an average of 1,495 calories per meal.

The report highlights what many dieticians have been preaching for a long time, said Alicia Zonenshine, dietician for Falmouth Hospital.

“Part of it is that the portions are too large, but it’s also what they are putting in the food,” she said. “I guarantee if you make a chicken dish at home it will be lower in sodium and fat than if you go to a restaurant and get the same thing.”

Zonenshine offered the following tips to make eating out healthier:

  • Just being in a restaurant primes our bodies to crave food, so prepare ahead by looking at the restaurant menu online and choosing your entrée before your senses are assaulted by delicious smells in a dining room.
  • Order first so you aren’t tempted or swayed by things other people in your party are ordering.
  • Say no thank you to the bread basket.
  • Choose restaurants where “special orders don’t upset us.” Some restaurants are willing to work with patrons to create healthier plates.
  • Start your meal with a garden salad, but make sure there are no croutons, cheese or other high calorie toppings.
  • Ask for all sauces and salad dressings on the side. If you are in control of the portion, it will most likely be a lot smaller.
  • Look for healthier key words like “broiled” or “grilled,” rather than “fried” or “crispy,” when ordering lean proteins like chicken or seafood.
  • If you do order a steak, remove all extra fat. Also remove skin from chicken.
  • Consider splitting a meal if the restaurant will allow it.
  • Ask for a doggie bag when you order your meal and when your entrée arrives, put half of it in the doggy bag right away. This will lessen the chances of overeating because you’re distracted by the conversation or setting.
  • Never order dessert just because other people at your table are ordering it.

“If you are going out to eat every once in a while and it’s a special occasion, if you see something on the menu that you are really drawn to, then I would say order it,” she said. “On occasion you should be allowed to treat yourself, just so long as you don’t do it all the time.”

Amy Rose Sager, dietician for the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod, agreed with Zonenshine’s tips and added a few of her own:

  • Plant based entrees are going to be lower in fat and calories so consider a vegetarian choice.
  • Double up on your veggies rather than eating starchy sides.
  • Avoid creamy soups, sauces and dressings. These items not only have more calories, but also more sodium.
  • Three ounces is a proper serving of meat so become familiar with what that actually looks like in proportion to the meat you are being served.
  • Make meat a condiment of the meal, not the main event.
  • Slow down the pace of the meal by putting your fork down between bites. Being more mindful helps you realize when you are satisfied and should stop eating.
  • Many people eat out because of a busy schedule. You can limit this by preparing meals at home ahead of time. That way a restaurant isn’t your only choice for a quick meal.

“A lot of times when we dine out we let our guard down,” Sager said. “We’re given a large portion and that automatically makes us more likely to overeat. It would be great if we could get restaurants to offer smaller portions and healthier choices.”