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Simply Nutritious, Quick and Delicious

Jenna Smith, Extension Educator brings you helpful tips to make meals easy, healthy and tasty!

Eating Out

Here is another fabulous entry from University of Illinois dietetic student, Ashley Wheeler!

Just today I stopped into one of my favorite chain restaurants to pick up a quick lunch. I usually try to go with one of the lighter options to avoid spending my calories for the whole day on one lunch that I eat by myself. Today, however, I doubled the calories in my "lighter" meal in the time that it took the cashier to push one button. For $1 extra, I opted for the larger portion instead of the small. An extra dollar may not seem like much financially, but it definitely put me in the red as far as calories go.

It is nice to eat out every once in a while. Occasionally, I will throw caution to the wind when ordering, but most of the time I try to follow a few guidelines that will help me stay healthy and feel good about what I am eating. Sharing with a friend is an easy way to save calories and cash, or you can simply order half of your meal to eat in the restaurant and half to take home. When I am getting a dinner for myself, I ask for a to-go box when I order the meal. That way, I can put half of the portion in the box and avoid the temptation to mindlessly eat the whole thing even after I have become full. I also like to take advantage of the "half sandwich and small salad" deals if available. Soups are great because they are filling and low in calories, if it is not cream-based. Just remember, if you need to watch your sodium intake, soups may not be the best option. If you choose soup to save calories, don't ruin your decision by adding a bread bowl, which can easily add 1000 calories to your meal (the equivalent of two meals!)

When ordering a salad, avoid heavy cream sauces and dressings and ask for dressings and sauces on the side when possible. Oil and vinegar or vinaigrette are a healthier option in lieu of creamy dressings such as ranch, blue cheese, or honey mustard. To avoid overdoing it on the dressing, try dipping your fork into the side of dressing and then using it to pick up lettuce. This a good way to control the amount of fat you take in. At Italian restaurants, skip the bread sticks. They can easily add 150-250 calories per stick to your meal. Instead, have a dinner salad while you are waiting for your entree. Order light cheese or no cheese to reduce your intake of saturated fat and calories. Choose dishes that emphasize vegetables, lean proteins and when possible, whole grains. Look for steamed, baked, broiled, grilled, and poached instead of fried foods. When ordering chicken, go naked- no sauce, no skin, no breading. Do your research! Most restaurants offer nutrition facts online. USDA's website is also a great reference for meal planning. Eat slowly and mindfully and enjoy your dining experience.

Pineapple Tostadas

¾ pound ground beef

2 tablespoons oil

½ cup chopped onion

2 tablespoons chopped green pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon chili powder

8 ounces tomato sauce

¾ teaspoon salt

4 corn tortillas

1 (8¼-ounces) can sliced pineapple, drained

4 cups shredded lettuce

1 cup shredded Jack cheese

¼ cup dairy sour cream


Brown beef in 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy skillet. Drain excess fat. Add onion, green pepper, and garlic to skillet and sauté until tender. Stir in chili powder, tomato sauce and salt. Fry tortillas in remaining tablespoon oil until crisp; drain and keep warm. Add well-drained pineapple slices to skillet and sauté until heated and tinged brown.To assemble, place ¼ cup beef mixture on each tortilla and cover with ½ cup lettuce. Repeat layers. Top each stack with a slice of pineapple, ¼ cup cheese and tablespoon sour cream. Serve at once.

Yield: 8 servings, 1 tortillas each

Nutritional Analysis per serving: 218 Calories, 12 grams fat, 43 milligrams cholesterol, 509 milligrams sodium, 16 grams carbohydrate, 2.5 grams dietary fiber, 14 grams protein

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