Food/Nutrition Columnist
On The Road – Approach Restaurants With Caution
Jul 22, 2013 - 12:03:21 AM

( - It is summer and everyone is going on a road trip. It doesn't matter if you take a day trip or an extended vacation by car, at some point you will get hungry. Chain restaurants dot the landscape and even in the most rural reaches of the US one is likely to pop up. Before you order keep this in mind - food eaten away from home almost always has more calories, fat, sodium and sugar and less fiber and whole grains.

McDonald's Double Whopper with Cheese is the poster child for big. It comes in close to 1,000 calories, with 64 grams of fat, 195 milligrams of cholesterol and 1,520 milligrams of sodium. Okay, you are thinking, so what does that all mean to me? If you are a woman it equals two-thirds of your calories for the day; for men it comes close to half. And, you have not yet added "would you like to have fries with that" (500 calories for a large serving) and a small chocolate shake (470 calories). By the end of the meal you will have eaten your total fat recommendation for the day, two-thirds of your suggested cholesterol intake and more than 60% of the daily sodium recommendation. When you add in the fries and shake you have a trifecta of calorie, fat and sodium overload. And, you have only eaten one meal. Most of us eat three meals, plus at least one snack each day.

Can you go on a road trip, eat in restaurants and eat well? You can but it takes some planning.

Let's start with coffee. If you drink 2 cups a day, switch from cream to whole milk. Two tablespoons of cream, an average serving in a cup of coffee, has 40 calories. Two tablespoons of whole milk has 18 calories. You save 22 calories for every cup of coffee you drink; 44 for two cups. Multiply that by 365 days in a year and you save 16,060 calories by making one simply change. Consistent small changes can add up to big results.

What other simple changes can you make? Would you like fries with that? Yes, but make it small and you cut the number of calories in half. Today, most small servings are twice the size they were 20 years ago and provide more than an adequate portion. Keep in mind small servings equal a smaller you. When in doubt order small or even a kiddie portion. You'll still get to enjoy foods you love while you keep the serving sizes reasonable.

Craving a turkey club sandwich? Order a turkey sandwich instead, with 2 instead of 3 slices of bread. Swap the mayonnaise for low fat ranch dressing and you will save close to 250 calories. Ask for whole wheat bread and you boost the fiber.

Want to start the meal with chips and dip? A half- cup of spinach dip plus 20 chips comes in close to 500 calories. Swap for salsa and chips and cut the calories to 200. Order raw vegetables and lowfat ranch dip and you cut the calories in half again.

Chicken fajitas served with stir-fried onions and peppers and 3 soft tortillas plus a quarter cup each of salsa, sour cream and guacamole adds up to about 950 calories. Ask the waiter for one extra tortilla. The meal now goes over 1,000 calories, but here is the catch, split with a friend and your meal comes in at approximately 525 calories each. Two fajitas plus fried veggies and sides is more than a satisfying portion.

Feel like Chinese food? Instead of starting with an egg roll, order steamed dim sum and save 100 calories. Order wonton soup as a first course and you will eat 200 calories less than the egg roll. A serving of General Tso's Chicken, which is breaded and deep-fried, coupled with a cup of white rice, adds up to over 700 calories. Switch to stir-fried, unbreaded chicken and vegetables with brown rice and save more than 200 calories.

The key to eating out is to think, plan and make small changes to what or how much you order. You don't have to give up favorites just eat less of them. Love cheesecake, split with a friend, or better yet order 1 slice and forks for everyone at the table.

(Calories vary from restaurant to restaurant. Figures have been rounded to serve as guidelines rather than as absolute values.)

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.

Look for:

The Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd ed., 2013

The Calorie Counter, 6th Ed., 2013

The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012

The Diabetes Counter, 4th Ed., 2011

The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011

The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010

The Fat Counter, 7th ed., 2009

The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008

The Cholesterol Counter, 7th Ed., 2008

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


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