We wait all year for the tastes of summer — burgers sizzling on the backyard grill, ice cream cones three scoops high and corn on the cob drenched in butter. Undoubtedly, food is one way we rejoice in the long-awaited season.
Warmer weather may also lure people to restaurants more often in the summer months, as patios open and al fresco dining commences. A 2017 USDA study on portion sizes in restaurants found that, on average, every meal or snack eaten out adds 134 more calories than if someone ate the same thing at home. That translates to an average weight gain of two pounds a year. Add in all the extra summer fun like road trips, ball games, beach vacations and your summer calorie count can easily soar.
To help keep you focused on healthier eating this summer, Katie Johnson, a registered dietitian and board-certified health and wellness coach, shares her top seven tips to stay on track, whether at a restaurant or a family barbeque.
- Cut the carbs. Take off half the bread or bun to make an open face sandwich. By doing this, you instantly save 100 to 200 calories, without sacrificing all of the carbohydrates. Avoid restaurant freebies, like bread or chips and salsa. You can eat hundreds of calories before you even order your main meal.
- Apply portion control. Use your hands as your portion guide. Estimate that a fist is about a cup for foods like potato salad, coleslaw, etc. and stay within that serving size. If you’re at a restaurant, box up half your meal before you even start eating, or share a meal. Most restaurant servings are much larger than a normal portion. Ask for condiments on the side like butter, dressing and sauces so you control the amount you add. For dessert, try the three-bite rule – take three slow bites and enjoy every moment or get a dessert to share.
- Pick the good stuff. At a BBQ, fill up half of your plate with fruits and veggies. Stick to healthier items that contain the words baked, broiled, dry rub, grilled, roasted and steamed. Stay away from or limit items that are made with alfredo, bernaise or white and cream-based sauces. Avoid menu items with the words battered, crispy, deep fried and smothered. Don't be afraid to customize your order. Ask for steamed veggies instead of fries, a baked potato instead of cheesy mashed potatoes, etc.
- Preview your options. When dining out, Katie said she tells her clients to take a few minutes to browse the menu ahead of time. Most restaurants have online menus and nutrition information available. If you’re at a summer celebration, do a quick scan of the foods before filling your plate. This will help cut down on impulsive decisions. Choose only what really appeals to you.
- Prep wisely. Eat a healthy snack like an apple before showing up so you are not starving when you arrive.
- Be smart about your beverages. Drink lots of water and remember alcohol calories add up quickly. Look up low-calorie drink options ahead of time. Stick to just one drink for women or two for men and have it with your meal, not beforehand.
- BYOF. Bring your own food to a get-together or BBQ, like a healthy dish to share so you know you have at least one nutritious option.
Summer months are fleeting, so Katie knows the importance of savoring it, too. Her tips allow for those seasonal indulgences while offering a few tools to beat high-calorie temptations. She also recommends diners check out this Healthy Dining Finder to get ideas of places that serve healthier foods.