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Healthy Eating Away From Home

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
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Why Does it Matter?

It's easy to be tempted when you're eating away from home — especially if everyone around you is chowing down on unhealthy options.

But eating too much fast food or choosing high-fat, high-calorie menu items can drag a person's body down. The most obvious problem is weight gain. But because the food we eat affects how our bodies work, eating the right (or wrong) foods can affect things like:

  • mental functioning
  • emotional well-being
  • energy
  • strength
  • weight
  • future health

Eating on the Go

It's pretty easy to make good choices at a fast-food restaurant, the mall, or even the school cafeteria. Most cafeterias and fast-food places offer healthy choices that are also tasty, like grilled chicken or salads. Keep an eye on portion sizes and high fat add-ons, like dressings, sauces, or cheese.

These tips can help you make wise choices:

  • Go for balance. Choose meals that contain a balance of lean proteins (like fish and chicken, or beans if you're a vegetarian), fruits and vegetables (fries and potato chips don't qualify as veggies!), and whole grains (like whole-wheat bread and brown rice). That's why a turkey sandwich on whole wheat with lettuce and tomato is a better choice than a cheeseburger on a white bun.
  • Watch portion sizes. Portions sizes at restaurants can be double or triple what you might eat at home. People tend to eat more when portions are larger.  
  • Drink water or low-fat milk. Avoid regular sodas, juices, sweet tea, and other sugary drinks that have lots of calories with no nutrition.

Tips for Eating at a Restaurant

Most restaurant portions are much bigger than the average food serving at home. Ask for half portions, share an entrée with a friend, or take half of your dish home.

Here are some other restaurant tips:

  • Ask for sauces and salad dressings on the side and use them sparingly.
  • Use salsa and mustard instead of mayonnaise or oil.
  • Ask for olive or canola oil instead of butter, margarine, or shortening.
  • Choose nonfat or low-fat milk instead of whole milk or cream.
  • Order baked, broiled, or grilled (not fried) lean meats including turkey, chicken, seafood, or steak.
  • Salads and vegetables make healthier side dishes than French fries. Use a small amount of sour cream instead of butter if you order a baked potato.
  • Choose fresh fruit instead of sugary, high-fat desserts.

Tips for Eating at the Mall or Fast-Food Place

With a little planning, it's easy to eat healthy foods. Here are some choices:

  • a single slice of veggie pizza
  • grilled, not fried, sandwiches (like a grilled chicken breast sandwich)
  • deli sandwiches on whole-grain bread
  • a small hamburger with side salad
  • a bean burrito
  • a baked potato topped with broccoli

Choose the smaller sizes, especially when it comes to drinks and snacks. If you crave something unhealthy, try sharing it with a friend. Here's another tip for eating while shopping: Don't put off eating until you're so hungry you could inhale everything in sight. Set a time to eat, then stop what you're doing to take a break, sit down, and savor the food you are eating.

Tips for Eating Well in School

The suggestions for eating in a restaurant and at the mall apply to cafeteria food too. Add vegetables and fruit whenever possible, and choose leaner, lighter items. Get sandwiches on whole-grain bread or a plain hamburger instead of fried foods or pizza. Go easy on the high-fat, low-nutrition items, such as mayonnaise and creamy salad dressings.

You might want to pack your lunch sometimes. These lunch items pack a healthy punch:

  • sandwiches with lean meats or fish, like turkey, chicken, tuna (made with low-fat mayo), lean ham, or lean roast beef. For variety, try other proteins, like peanut butter, hummus, or meatless chili. If you don't like your bread dry, choose mustard or a small amount of lite mayo.
  • low-fat or nonfat milk, yogurt, or cheese
  • fresh fruit or fruit cups packed in juice
  • raw baby carrots, green and red pepper strips, tomatoes, or cucumbers
  • whole-grain breads, pita, bagels, or crackers

It can be easy to eat well, even on the run. And the good news is you don't have to eat perfectly all the time. It's OK to splurge every once in a while, as long as you make good choices most of the time.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: January 2021