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USDA Travel Calorie Counting Tips

Restaurant Advice: Buffets and Fast Food

When you're eating on the road, you can find yourself in many dietary quandaries. Here are some tips for when you're forced to eat at buffets, fast food restaurants or take-out places.

All-American Buffet

A buffet is an invitation to overeat, so it can be a very dangerous place for people trying to lose weight. Don't take a buffet as a challenge to get your money's worth by overfilling your plate. Instead, survey the buffet offerings and come up with a plan. Choose the foods most interesting to you, and leave the rest alone. Focus on vegetable-based dishes without sauce or fried accompaniments. Take small or modest amounts; don't heap your plate. And if you go back for seconds, take only the lowest-calorie foods. Choose only one item for dessert.


Best bets:

  • Broth-based soups
  • Baked, grilled, or broiled meat, fish, or chicken
  • Peel and eat shrimp
  • Baked potato
  • Tossed salad
  • Sauteed vegetables
  • Nonfat frozen yogurt, sherbet, or fruit ice

Waistline expanders:

  • Cream soups
  • Quiche and salad
  • Fried meat, fish, or chicken
  • Buffalo chicken wings
  • Creamy coleslaw, macaroni salad, potato salad
  • Croissants
  • Cake, pie, cheesecake, ice cream
  • French fries or potatoes and gravy

Fast FoodFast food is often high in calories, fat, and sodium and lacking in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. If you're not careful, you can end up consuming an entire day's worth of calories -- or more -- in one fast-food meal. Since eating on the run is sometimes necessary in our fast-paced days, there are ways you can keep fast-food calories from landing on your hips. The next time you visit your favorite fast-food haunts, ask for a nutritional analysis brochure -- all the fast-food places have them. Check the brochure to determine which choices are lowest in calories, fat, saturated fat, and sugar. Jot down a list of items you like that are modest in calories. Order from this list each time you frequent the restaurant. Alternatively, you can plan ahead and visit the fast-food restaurant's Web site. Look for their menu planner or nutritional analysis section. Here you'll find all the same information as in their brochure. Plan ahead and know what to order before you get there. You can always balance high-fat items with low-fat choices. Perhaps you're having a burger, which is typically high in fat. Instead of fries or chips, choose a salad. Just beware the dressing. Make sure it's a low-calorie dressing choice, or just use half the packet or none at all. Choose a sandwich or sub shop if it's an option. It's easy to order lean meats such as turkey on your sandwich, plenty of veggies, and no cheese or mayo. You can even buy half a sandwich and team it up with baked chips and iced tea for a filling, low-calorie lunch. The next time you find your car steering itself to the drive-thru, keep these pointers in mind.Best bets:

  • Small or junior sizes of burgers, fries, and sugary beverages
  • Foods that are "grilled," "broiled," or "flame-broiled"
  • Chicken fajita pita
  • Baked potato with vegetable or yogurt topping
  • Pretzels, baked chips
  • Nonfat frozen yogurt, fruit cups, or fruit and yogurt parfaits
  • Water, 1% or fat-free milk, or juice

Waistline expanders:

  • "Deluxe" and "supersize"menu items. Even if those options cost less now or are a good dollar value, consider the health-care costs down the road.
  • Foods that are fried
  • Fried chicken pieces or nuggets
  • French fries
  • Potato chips
  • Apple pie, cookies
  • Milk shake, soft drinks

Put the brakes on discretionary caloriesIt's often the little things you do that can amount to big calorie savings or wreak havoc with your calorie budget. Fat and sugar easily creep in when you're dining out unless you keep up your weight-control defenses.

  • Request sauces, gravies, and dressings on the side so you control how much of them you eat.
  • Ask for salad dressing to be served on the side. Then just dip your fork in it and pick up a forkful of salad -- you get the flavor with a minimal amount of dressing. Or drizzle a little dressing from your fork onto the salad.
  • Be selective at a salad bar. Go easy on or avoid the creamy salads, such as potato or pasta salad, as well as marinated salads, cheese, bacon bits, and croutons. Choose a low-fat dressing if you can, and put it on the side. Or just enjoy the salad without any dressing at all.
  • On sandwiches, hold the condiments such as mayonnaise and special sauces. Instead, ask for lettuce, onion, tomato, or other veggies, along with mustard or a splash of vinegar.
  • Ask the server to remove the butter from the table.
  • Get a salad instead of mashed or fried potatoes, white rice, or bread.
  • Be adventurous when it comes to toppings. For instance, instead of the traditional high-calorie butter and sour cream for your baked potato, try salsa, taco sauce, or chives and pepper. Ask for lemon wedges, and squeeze onto vegetable side dishes or salad.
  • Cut fat and calories in half by sharing an order of fries or other high-calorie side dish.
  • Eat lower-calorie options first, such as vegetables and grilled meat. Then move on to the higher-calorie items, such as mashed potatoes, which have added fat. That way, you'll eat less of the higher-calorie food.
  • For dessert, order fresh fruit, a fruit-based dessert, or fruit ice.
  • Share dessert or take half home.
  • Skip the alcoholic beverages and sodas. Instead, choose nutrient-rich beverages such as small sizes of juice or nonfat milk; plain water, coffee, or tea are low-or no-calorie options.

Share With a Group Gathering around food is a way to share cultural, religious, and family traditions. Eating together creates bonds. Offering food to someone is a sign of acceptance and love. It's no wonder that many social gatherings revolve around food. Potlucks or covered-dish affairs are common. You can attend social events that include food without wreaking havoc with your weight-loss plan. It would be a shame to miss such gatherings because of a fear of food. Use everything you've learned so far, plus a few extra tricks.

  • Take the edge off your hunger before events -- eat a light meal or healthy snack beforehand so you won't be so hungry that you'll wolf down bowls of dips and chips or trays of cookies in one fell swoop.
  • Before going to a gathering, make a plan for yourself. Deciding on your behavior beforehand makes it easier to resist your impulses.
  • Anticipate the types of food to choose, such as vegetable dishes.
  • Take small portions.
  • Skip seconds.
  • Choose only one small dessert.
  • If you're contributing food to the event, bring something you like that's low in calories, so there will be at least one thing you can fill up on.
  • Pick out a few of your favorites, like you do at a buffet, and skip the rest.
  • Eat small amounts of appetizers and sweet treats.
  • Bring your own calorie-free beverage to make sure you have a choice that's right for you.
  • If you're at an event and realize that you're eating more than you intended to, find someone to visit with, go play with kids, or take a quick walk so that you are no longer focused on food.

It would be easy to assume that being on the road will definitely wreak havoc on your diet. But that doesn't have to be the case. With the right approach and attitude, you can turn a negative into a positive.

©Publications International, Ltd. This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.