On losing weight (Part 7 – Dinners and restaurants)

My previous post in this series focused on reducing my caloric intake while at work. This time, I’m going to examine controlling what I eat at dinner time and when eating out.

Dinners at home

For the most part, I have left my dinners unchanged. Remember, according to my calorie budget, I should be eating between 800 – 1200 calories at dinner time. I set up my diet this way so that I can eat whatever the rest of the family is eating, but I still have found ways to tweak my meals:

  • Prepare frozen veggies without oil or butter.
  • Buy only fat free milk, and only drink a half glass of it at dinner.
  • No salad dressing on my salads, only salt and pepper.
  • When eating a 3-course meal (meat, grain, veggies — common in our house) load up on vegetables, and go lighter on the meat and grain. If I’m still hungry, get mostly vegetables on subsequent helpings.
  • Use whole-wheat pasta.
  • Use brown rice. Wegmans has these excellent “Steamables” microwaveable brown rice that cook in just 90 seconds, and are delicious!
  • Substitute 99% lean ground turkey for ground beef in various recipes.
  • When I do use ground beef, use the 95% lean variant.
  • Use whole wheat breads. For example, Wegmans sells whole wheat hot dog rolls, hamburger buns, and tortilla wraps.
  • Our family does frozen pizza on occasion. Wegmans sells a delicious Kashi frozen pizza that is very healthy.
  • Our family occasionally does frozen dinners as well. There’s actually a huge selection of quite low-calorie frozen meals. The Travels of India Chicken Curry is probably my favorite. Delicious, and only about 400 calories.
  • On leftover nights, if there is a choice between multiple meals, I try to put together a plate that will minimize the calorie density of my meal.
  • I have a “fill me up” strategy: pickles. If I’ve eaten what I consider to be a reasonable meal, but still feel hungry, then I heap some pickles onto my plate. They’re filling, but have a negligible calorie count.

Eating at restaurants

In general, you will eat much more healthy meals when you cook for yourself. That being said, here are some strategies that I use when eating out.

Plan ahead

If you have a plan in place, then you are much more likely to make a healthy decision when ordering at a restaurant. Most establishments have an online menu, and many restaurant web sites offer nutritional information that’s not available in the printed version of the menu.

Decide where you will be eating ahead of time and pre-read the menu. Many menus have some kind of symbol to denote a “low calorie” choice. I usually start with these. If one of them catches my eye, then I don’t even need to look at other options.


Most restaurants are perfectly happy to customize your meal for you. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Ask if they have a whole-grain bread option. Get sandwiches without cheese or mayo. Order the salad without bacon and croutons.

Some restaurants even have an online application that will help you customize your meal. My favorite of these is Red Robin. They allow you to modify everything on your burger from the bun to the patty, and they will even show you a comparison of nutritional information before and after modification. With some creative modifications, I was able to reduce their Fiery Ghost Style Big Tavern Burger from 791 down to 482 calories. Once you’re done customizing, you can click the Print My Meal link, and print out instructions that you can just hand to the waiter.

Water, water, water

I don’t tend to have soda available at home, but for some reason I’m always tempted to drink sugary beverages when I eat out. Not only are they full of calories, but at some places, the attentive staff just keep bringing you more! I’d much rather skimp on the drink and consider adding an appetizer or dessert!

Fast food picks

I don’t recommend frequenting fast food joints, but they are definitely convenient at times. Here’s some recommendations:

  • Check nutritional information. Don’t just assume. Almost all fast food restaurants have info available online, and many have helpful apps that you can install on your phone. Did you know that a BK Whopper (w/o mayo or cheese) is only 510 calories? In comparison, their 5 piece chicken strips are 570!
  • Skip the fries. Most places have several alternatives these days. My favorite: Wendy’s has a large cup of chili that’s only 250 calories. In comparison, a large fries is 500.
  • Consider healthy alternatives. McDonald’s has a Premium McWrap Grilled Chicken & Ranch. Make sure to get the grilled variety. It saves you 160 calories over the crispy. Order without the ranch sauce to shave off 60 more and get you down to only 390 calories in the sandwich.

A few meal selections

Here is a short list of specific meals that I tend to order:

  • Applebee’s – Napa Chicken and Portobellos: 490 calories
  • The Distillery – Seared Sesame Ahi Tuna: “under 600 calories”
  • Moe’s – Pork Homewrecker Jr. loaded with veggies and guac: 500 calories
  • Friendly’s – Turkey Tips: 630 calories
  • Bob’s Diner – 4 egg veggie omelette, no cheese w/ “dry” wheat toast: 550 calories
  • Papa John’s – Garden Fresh pizza, thin crust, light cheese: ~200 calories / slice (estimated)

Ice cream

I love going to get ice cream with my family. When I started counting calories, my excursions to the ice cream shop always stuck out like a sore thumb. Here’s some strategies that I use:

  • Shop around for a fat-free and / or sugar-free ice cream or frozen yogurt that tastes good. Some places have low-fat varieties that have horrible consistency and flavor. I like the Fat-free, no-sugar-added frozen yogurt at Read’s Ice Cream a lot. It makes a great Irish Cream milk shake!
  • Frequent places that let you load up on fruits. Yolickity has a good selection of fresh fruits available. I recommend a lower crust of granola, followed by a reasonable serving of the no-sugar-added vanilla, then a healthy portion of pineapple, strawberries, and blueberries.

– danBhentschel

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