Category Archives: restaurant meals

Meals Away from Home and Your Health

Did you know that eating one meal away from home can increase your daily intake by an average of 134 calories?  Holding everything else consistent (e.g., activity level), that means you can gain approximately 2 pounds per year if you eat out only once per week.  In February 2010, the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) released a report, The Impact of Food Away From Home on Adult Diet Quality, which presents findings from an analysis of data derived from two studies – the 1994-1996 Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals (CSFII) and the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).  This investigation looked at the affects of dining out on caloric intake, overall diet quality, and quality of  meal choices for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

What were the results?

  • Daily caloric intake increases by approximately 134 calories on the days one meal is eaten away from home.
  • Eating one meal away from home per week can result in an average weight gain of 2 pounds per year.
  • Dining out for one meal lowers the quality of your diet – shifting the average adult diet from a classification of “fair” to “poor.”
  • The number of servings of fruit per 1,000 calories decreases by as much as 22.3%  when one meal is eaten away from home.
  • The intake of dark green and orange vegetables is reduced by approximately 31.4% when dining away from home.
  • The consumption of whole grains is decreased by an estimated 26.8% when a restaurant meal is chosen.
  • Dining out results in an increase of sodium, added sugars, solid fat, saturated fat, and alcohol by 1.9-9.3%.
  • Affects of diet quality vary based on which meal is eaten away from home.  Dining out for breakfast results in a decrease in intake of whole grains and dairy per 1,000 calories consumed and an increase in the consumption of added sugars, alcohol, solid fat and saturated fat that day.  Eating out at dinner results in a decrease of vegetables consumed per 1,000 calories.  Lunch-time meals away from home result account for the biggest drop of fruit intake per 1,000 calories (22.3%).
  • Dieters appear to have a greater difficulty choosing healthy items when away from home compared to nondieters as evidenced by a greater increase in intake of saturated fat for breakfast and lunch meals eaten away from home and a greater consumption of added sugars, salt, alcohol, solid fat and saturated fat when snacks and breakfast are dined out.
  • Negative effects on diet quality have decreased between the study periods of 1994-1996 and 2003-2004.  Improvements were noted for whole grain consumption at breakfast and saturated fat when snacking away from home.

Recent increases in public awareness, changes made by restaurants to offer healthier options, and new federal mandates that nutrition information be provided to patrons of restaurants can contribute to continual improvement of  diet quality when dining out.

How do you try to eat healthy while dining out?  Share with us, we want to know!


Todd, Jessica E., Lisa Mancino, and Biing-Hwan Lin. The Impact of Food Away From Home on Adult Diet Quality, ERR-90, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, February 2010.




Filed under breakfast, dining out, dinner, health trends, lunch, restaurant meals

Putting it on the Plate with PICKKA – Eat What?

Eat What? recommends what to eat from grocery stores and restaurants.

Last month, PICKKA launched a cool new app for the iPhone – Eat What?. This nifty app provides you with a list of recommended products to buy at the grocery store and/or suggestions of menu items from a restaurant based on your dietary objectives (e.g., management of diabetes, prediabetes, weight, cholesterol, and high blood pressure, and/or adhering to healthy eating).  Eat What? is simple to use.

First, select your health objectives.

Second, specify whether you want to search restaurant menu items or products from the grocery store.  Then, type the name of the restaurant, product brand, or food category for which you would like recommendations.

Third, review the list of recommendations.  Nutritional information is provided as well as consumer ratings of taste to help you narrow your choice.

“Eat What?” eliminates the guess work out of deciding what to eat so you can spend more time enjoying your food and less time analyzing it.  For an easy way to stay on track, download the “Eat What?” app for your iPhone.

Don’t have an iPhone?  Try PICKKA’s “Eat This?” app now available for the Android market.  Visit Eat This?” to learn more and to download the app to your Android phone.


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Filed under Eat This?, Eat What?, health, healthy eating tips, healthy food, iPhone apps, nutrition, nutrition labels, PICKKA, restaurant meals

How Many Calories are Really in that Meal?

I am sure you are familiar with the standard suggestions given in the interest of weight management and health – “Read the nutrition label,” “Count your calories,” “Compare the caloric density of  meals.”  In theory, it is sound advice.  Body weight is maintained when there is a caloric balance -“calories in equal calories out.”  To lose weight calories consumed should be less than calories expended. If intake is greater than expenditure, then weight gain occurs.

The nutritional information listed on prepackaged foods, and now provided by some restaurants, should help you to determine the amount of calories you are consuming.  After all, the best way to calculate how many calories you take in throughout the day is to rely on the information of the nutrition label, right?  Not so fast say investigators of a study published in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.  The study, which evaluated the energy content of 39 commercially prepared frozen entrees and restaurant meals (obtained in the Boston, MA vicinity) indicated that there is a significant discrepancy between the caloric content listed and the actual values contained in the food.

The purpose of the investigation was to determine the accuracy of claimed energy values of food targeting consumers interested in weight management.  To be included in the study, criteria for restaurant meals were as follows:

  • Total energy content less than 500 kcal
  • Typical American food fare
  • One of the menu offerings that was lowest in caloric value

For frozen entrees obtained from the grocery store to be included in the study they had to be considered an alternative choice to dining out.

The test meals were sent to a research lab for analyzing.  The results?  The average caloric value of tested restaurant meals was 18% greater than the stated energy content, with some foods containing twice as many calories than listed (i.e., 200% more than claimed).  Frozen meals purchased from the grocery store had, on average, 8% more calories than purported.  The investigators note, however, that “the underreporting of energy by restuarants and food manufacturers notwithstanding, the majority of foods tested were not out of compliance with US Food and Drug Administration regulations because most fell within the 20% overage the Administration allows for packaged food (no ceiling of overage is specified for restaurant foods).”

Although these discrepencies fell within the acceptable range based on federal guidelines, they can still have a major negative consequence for the well-meaning consumer trying to adhere to a diet conducive to weight management.  What can/should be done about this?  The investigators suggest that steps be taken to improve quality control during commercial preparation of food and that stricter federal and state regulations be put in place with a better means by which to ensure compliance by food manufacturers.

Consumers need to arm themselves with the knowledge that the actual caloric content of the foods they eat may be significanly more than what is stated.  Therefore, if you are counting your calories and exercising but still having difficulty maintaining body weight, you might want to reconsider your food choices.  Switching to more meals prepared at home from whole foods and foods in their natural state may be the better alternative.

What do you think?  Should there be stricter federal and state regulations on energy content claims made by food manufacturers?  Share with us, we want to know!


J Am Diet Assoc. 2010;110:116-123.  “The Accuracy of Stated Energy Contents of Reduced-Energy, Commercially Prepared Foods,” Urban, L.E. et al.,.



Filed under caloric content, frozen entrees, frozen meals, nutrition labels, restaurant meals, weight loss, weight management

Eating Well While Traveling

Eating healthy while away on a business trip or family vacation can prove to be a challenge.  Differences in regional culinary tastes and time zone changes can make it difficult to eat the foods to which you are accustomed, as well as, to eat at the time your body is ready.  These factors can lead to “emergency” situations in which you opt for less than healthy choices just to be able to appease your hunger pains.  However, with a little planning before hand, you can maintain a relatively healthy diet while away from home.

The following tips were presented by nutritionist and exercise physiologist, Felicia D. Stoler, DCN, MS, RD at the 57th Annual American College of Sports Medicine Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland on June 2, 201o:

Plan Ahead

  • If you will be traveling by plane, inquire with the airline if meals will be provided and what will be served.  If it does not meet your nutrition goals, either pack your own meal in your carry on bag or eat a healthy meal before arriving at the airport.
  • Make reservations at a hotel that offers a continental breakfast buffet.  This amenity often includes healthy choices such as fresh fruit, low-fat yogurt, and oatmeal.
  • Contact the hotel at which you will be staying to get a list of restaurants and grocery stores in the area so that you can plan meals in advance.  If your hotel room will have a refrigerator and/or microwave you can prepare meals in your room, such as oatmeal for breakfast, “just add water” items, and low-sodium, low-fat soups/frozen entrees.
  • When packing, include a few small, healthy snacks (e.g., breakfast bar/protein bar, nuts, dried fruit, 100 calorie packs, etc.,) that can be kept with you in the event of flight delays or other unexpected circumstances.
  • If you will be staying away for an extended period of time, consider shipping your healthy favorites to your destination ahead of time, especially if you know there will be regional differences in brands of products offered.

Healthy Eating at Restaurants

  • Ask the waiter or waitress how the menu item is prepared and ask for healthy substitutions if necessary
  • Choose a salad and request the dressing on the side
  • When ordering, ask for a smaller portion or a 1/2 size or order off of the appetizer menu for portion control
  • Split or share a meal
  • Opt for grilled, rather than fried, versions of poultry, meat, and/or fish dishes
  • Include vegetables or fruit as a side to increase fiber intake (this is particularly important to prevent constipation that often occurs when traveling)

How to Prevent “Belly Bulge” while Traveling

  • Keep indulgence to a minimum.  Vacation time is not a license to eat poorly, stick to your regular diet.
  • Eat a light breakfast and lunch and treat yourself at dinner (within reason)
  • Have a ready supply of healthy snacks
  • Increase fiber intake to satiate hunger

A business trip or family vacation doesn’t have to mean an end to your healthy eating habits.  By developing a plan and preparing ahead of time, you can enjoy healthy, filling meals without worrying about health consequences.

How do you stay healthy while on a business trip or family vacation?  Share with us, we want to know!


Filed under health, healthy food, restaurant meals

Home Style Fast Food

Make your own healthy version of a fast food meal.

Have you decided that you and your family need to cut back on the number of meals you eat from fast food restaurants?  Your good intentions might be met with strong protests from the youngest members of your family, especially if they are big fans of the enticing kid’s meals offered at these chains.  But, you can make this transition a little easier on all of you by making your own fast food meal – home style.

The idea is to make the healthy change in diet fun for your child.  You can do this by designating one night each week as “Make Our Own Fast Food Meal.”  You can give your child’s favorite fast food meal a nutrition makeover if you prepare and cook it yourself.  For instance, if chicken nuggets and fries are the number one choice, you can purchase lean chicken tender strips from your local butcher, dip them in egg whites, coat with bread crumbs, season, and then bake in the oven.  French fries can be transformed into oven baked fries.  Cut potatoes into strips, coat with nonstick cooking spray, season, and bake in the oven.

While you are cooking, have your child design and decorate his own kid’s meal box.  A carry-out box that can be purchased from your local arts and crafts store is perfect for this activity.  The child can use stickers and draw his own games (e.g., tic-tac-toe, etc.,) on the sides.  To add to the fun, you can purchase a toy from the dollar store to place inside your child’s homemade kid’s meal box.

Your child will have fun making his own kid's meal box.

Increasing the number of meals made at home, where you can control the fat, salt, and sugar content, is a great step toward living a healthy lifestyle.  Engage your child in this decision by making the change fun and adventurous.  As a result, you may find that your child starts to offer his own suggestions on how to eat healthier.

Do you have a clever idea that has helped your family make the switch to healthy eating more enjoyable? Be the first to comment below!  We want to hear what you have to say!


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Filed under children, health, healthy food, nutrition, restaurant meals

Sustainable Mother’s Day Gifts

Don’t forget about Mother Earth this Mother’s Day when you are deciding upon which gifts to give to the moms in your life!  Choose healthy, eco-friendly presents that will show you care for years to come.  Consider these green options that give the gift of health:

  • Buy the mom in your life a share from the local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.  Your mom will be sure to enjoy the nutritious seasonal produce delivered to her door fresh from the farm with this option.  Visit Local Harvest to find a CSA nearby.
  • Rent a plot at the local Community Garden.  A great gift for the gardening mom with a small yard or no yard of her own.  Increase the benefits of this gift by offering to spend quality time with your mother as you both flex your green thumbs cultivating your space for your personal organic garden.  To learn more about community gardens visit the American Community Gardening Association.
  • Give a fruit-bearing tree.  Apple, cherry, and peach trees are just a few of the choices for a gift that will not only provide your mom with a bit of nutrition from their flavonoid-loaded delectables, but may also get you a tasty homemade pie in return!
  • A homemade meal made with all-natural and organic ingredients.  Dads grab your kids and hit the local farmer’s market to whip up a meal that the mom in your life won’t forget.
  • Make reservations at a sustainable restaurant this Mother’s Day.  Don’t have time or the know-how to cook the meal yourself?  Mom will enjoy a meal at one of these dining destinations.  These restaurants are committed to serving meals prepared from local and/or sustainable farms.  To  find a restaurant near you visit the Eat Well Guide website.



Filed under eco-friendly, green eating, green living, healthy food, organic, restaurant meals, sustainable

Life and Health Insurance Companies are Fattening Up

Life and health insurance companies own stock in the fast food industry.

Life and health insurance companies have a health problem.  They are “fattening up.”  The culprit?  The fast food industry.  But, the “girth” of these companies isn’t necessarily coming from consuming fast food, rather, the growth is a result of investing in them.  A study conducted by Harvard researchers, and published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that 11 prominent life and health insurance companies own $1.88 billion dollars worth of stocks in 5 popular fast food chains (McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s/Arby’s Group, Jack in the Box, and Yum! Brands -owner of Pizza Hut, KFC, Taco Bell, and others).

A conflict of interest?  Some say very much so, especially in light of the fact that our nation is faced with an obesity epidemic – with childhood obesity being of particular concern.  Fast food meals, with their high caloric and fat content, play a role in this epidemic and in the development of its associated diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.  Children are highly targeted by fast food industry marketing tactics.  And, there are a greater number of fast food restaurants located in minority and lower-income neighborhoods.

What should be done about this “disconnect” between the life and health insurance companies mission to promote health and their financial investments in an industry that is linked to the development of chronic disease?  The researchers have a few suggestions. First, They propose that the life and health insurance companies should remove their funds from the fast food chains, as well as any other investments in industries whose products are detrimental to the health of the general public.  Second, the authors of the study indicate that the life and health insurance companies should use their holdings as leverage to persuade the fast food industry to make changes that promote the health of their consumers (e.g., portion control, reduce caloric and fat content, etc.,).

In order for our nation to combat the current obesity epidemic, all sectors of society need to assume responsibility and alter their practices to ones that promote health rather than contribute to the development of disease.

What do you think the life and health insurance companies should do with their investments?  Share your opinion, we want to know!



Filed under obesity, restaurant meals