You deserve a break to day. Sound familiar? The 1970s slogan for McDonald’s was giving then stay-at-home moms permission for a break from cooking for their family. Originally, eating out at restaurants was reserved for special occasions. Sure there was the caf√© for the occasional breakfast or roadside meal, but most meals were prepared and served mainly at home.

As people choose to eat out more often because of their busy schedules, fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s are adjustingto the demand for healthier options by offering this oatmeal with fruit dish.Total Calories: 400.
(Photo courtesy McDonald’s)

Today, with both parents usually working and busy students or professionals limited with time, eating out is more the norm. Because many people are relying on foods prepared away from home, restaurants are responding to their customers’ needs and requests for healthier meals.

Still available are rich, special occasion meals, but many chain restaurants are offering lower-calorie, healthier options other than the “diet plate” of cottage cheese and sliced tomatoes for those diners looking to trim their waistline. With menu boards listing nutritional information, diners can be more discriminate with their choices.

There are three things to think about when trying to make better choices at restaurants:

• How much are you eating?

• What are you ordering?

• How is the meal prepared?

Restaurant meals are one size fits all. They don’t offer one version for the 6 foot 2 inch, 180-pound man and one version for the 5 foot 3 inch, 120-pound woman. Even the half salads at most restaurants are more than half the daily calorie needs for a man to maintain a healthy weight. For weight loss, most men only need between 1,500 and 2,000 calories per day and most women between 1,200 and 1,500 calories per day. That translates to only 300 to 500 calories per meal.

Panera Bread has come out with their new Power Menu, ranging between 170 and 360 calories. They’ve partnered with the favorite weight loss app Lose it!, offering breakfast and lunch “power bowls” filled with lean protein, fresh vegetables and healthier sauces or dips such as cilantro humus. They’ve even added a six-week weight loss challenge for those interested in attempting to lose 5 pounds, receiving weekly awards.

You may be careful ordering lower calorie, more healthfully prepared meals, but then pair it with a high calorie, sweetened drink or alcohol. One 5-ounce glass of wine or 12-ounce beer is approximately 150 calories, and a specialty coffee can tack on 350 calories. Stick with calorie-free options like iced tea, mineral waters, or regular coffee.

Starbucks offers a few drinks under 75 calories, starting with a caf√© Americano at 10 calories, a nonfat cappuccino at 60 calories, and an iced coffee or iced skinny latte — both under 70 calories.

Most people I work with know to order meals with the wording in the description as grilled, broiled, or steamed, and to steer clear of meals prepared fried, saut√©ed, breaded or battered. When you aren’t preparing your own meals, you have no control over the cooking technique used by the kitchen staff, therefore, you have no idea how much oil they use when saut√©ing your order.

Seasons 52 in Santa Monica claims to use wood-fire grilling, brick-oven cooking and caramelizing of vegetables to let the natural flavors shine through. They season and oil with control and care to ensure just the right amount is used to bring out the great flavor profiles, leading to menu items naturally lower in calories. They also promise that nothing on their menu is over 475 calories. Now that takes a lot of the guess work out of dining out.



Lori Salerno, M.S., R.D.N, C.P.T. is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified personal trainer who provides medical nutrition therapy to groups and individuals in Santa Monica and recipe and menu analysis for restaurants nationwide. Learn more by visiting

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