Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Dining out strategies

Pre-dining strategies

  1. Never arrive hungry. Grab a healthy snack prior to leaving home or work. This will help prevent you from ordering appetizers that tend to be high in fat and calories.
  2. Always know where you’re going. Select a restaurant that you know, or that posts the menu on the outside window. Make sure healthy menu choices are offered or special requests are honored. Maintain a selection of preferred take out menus so you can review your options ahead of time and have in mind a healthy choice when it's time to order.
  3. Skip the cocktail hour. Limit your intake of alcohol, or better yet, avoid it all together. Drinking alcohol can lower your resistance to tempting, high-fat foods and can reduce your appetite all together, putting you at a deficit for valuable nutrients. Alcohol also effects the metabolic functions of every gastrointestinal tract organ, including the liver. Alcohol is directly toxic to many bodily tissues and has been shown to be correlated with an increased risk of cancer of the larynx, pharynx, esophagus, colon, lung, liver and pancreas.

Decoding your menu

  1. Ask before you order. Ask about words you don't understand or if the item can be prepared in a more healthful manner. Request a clear explanation of ingredients and preparation methods. Your waiter/waitress should readily know how your food is prepared.
  2. Gain a healthy perspective. If you feel self-conscious about your dietary choices, or feel your inquiries are causing the wait staff trouble, rethink your position. Would you buy a book without reading the back cover to at least see if it's interesting? You have a right to ask questions about an item on a menu. After all, you are the one who will be eating and paying for it!
  3. Order it the way you want it. Ask for salad dressings, sauces and gravies to be served on the side. More and more restaurants are carrying low fat dressing and fresh fruits. Ask for skim or low fat milk to use in coffee or tea. If the menu item isn't pre-made, ask if reduced amounts of cheese can be used or substitute white cheeses for yellow cheeses in an attempt to decrease the amount of fat in your meal.
  4. Know the skinny on fattening foods. The following menu descriptors are high in fat and should always be avoided:
    au beurre bearnaise fried
    au gratin creamy fritters Alfredo
    crispy hollandaise batter-dipped
    carbonara parmigiana breaded
    flaky tempura
  5. Know what to choose. Better choices for preparing meat and fish include:
    au jus boiled poached
    baked grilled roasted
    barbecued marinated steamed
  6. Know what to ask.Asking a simple question may lead you better meal choices.
    If the menu says... Ask...
    Breaded "Is it fried? What type of fat is used?"
    Broiled "Is butter used?"
    Grilled "What type of fat is used?"
    Seasoned "Are any fats used to season this?"
    Specially prepared "What exactly does this mean?"
  7. Life in the fast lane. There are going to be times when it is most convenient to visit a fast food restaurant. The main nutritional concerns with fast food meals are that they are high in calories and low in calcium, fiber and vitamins A and C. So what should a fast food eater do?
  8. Be choosy. Before you step up to the counter to order your next fast food meal, think about what you have already eaten and what you'll eat later that day. Fit this meal into your food intake for the entire day and make sure to combine your fast foods with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Tips for healthier ordering

Instead of.... Choose...
Quarter Pound Burger Veggie Burger and Tossed Salad
Waldorf Salad Tossed Greens with Fresh Fruit Side Dish
Rice Pilaf or Stuffing Baked Potato or Steamed Red Potatoes
Chicken Kiev Chicken Marsala
Beef or Cheese Enchilada Chicken Fajitas
Chocolate Raspberry Torte Mixed Berries with Sorbet

Food fare best bets

  • Sandwich shop: Fresh sliced veggies in a pita with low-fat dressing. Cup of minestrone soup and turkey breast sandwich with mustard, lettuce and tomato/fresh fruit. For that big deli sandwich, order two extra slices of bread, remove half the filling, wrap in foil and refrigerate.
  • Fast food: Grilled chicken breast without cheese. Grilled sandwich/single burger. Chicken salad. Low-fat or nonfat yogurt. Cereal. Bring a piece of fresh fruit to round out the meal. Keep salads healthy with low-fat dressing.
  • Salad bars: Broth-based soups and fresh bread. Raw veggies, beans, low-fat dressing. Fresh fruit salad. Avoid marinated beans, oily pasta salads, creamy salad dressings and croutons.
  • Asian take-out: Wonton soup, noodle soup, hot and sour soup. Steamed vegetable dumplings. Soy vegetable mixtures over steamed rice or noodles. Request that vegetables be steamed or stir-fried with as little oil as possible. Use soy sauce sparingly and avoid MSG.
  • Pizzeria: Ask for your pizza with less cheese. Choose flavorful, low-fat toppings such as peppers, onions, sliced tomatoes, spinach, broccoli or mushrooms.

by Kim Dalzell, PhD, RD, LD

Excerpt from: Challenge Cancer and Win!