Is Dining Out a Bad Thing?

Julie Shenkman
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Americans are busier than ever, which has more people turning to restaurants and fast food for quick, no-hassle meals. Unfortunately, this frequent dining out is not helping anyone's pocketbook, and it is also contributing to the growth of obesity among the American population. Research shows that eating more home-cooked meals could help you have better health and save you money.

Principal Financial Group's Financial Well-Being Index shows that in 2016, people were spending more money than ever on dining out. Twenty-five percent of those surveyed said they overspent in this area, up from 22 percent in 2015. On average, consumers eat 200 more calories when dining out than when dining in. Those calories come from larger portions and foods that are higher in fat, often unhealthy fats, than those foods typically chosen at home. It is no surprise that frequent dining out correlates with greater obesity levels and higher body fat percentages.

Health care professionals can help their patients improve their health by providing them with information and tools to reduce the frequency of dining out. Encourage your clients to consider dining out as a special treat for special occasions. Pay special attention to groups that are more likely to eat out frequently, such as young professional singles and busy families. Extend this advice to your employees, too. A healthy workforce translates to better work performance. Consider the following options to help your patients and your staff make better choices.

Organizational Tools

Better organization can help people make more meals at home. Put together an information sheet or pamphlet with ideas for faster meal prep. For example, busy professionals can cook a few things on the weekend, and then reheat them for dinner during the week. Another helpful option is menu tablets with space to enter each planned meal. Elderly patients might benefit from a simple grocery list pad and a magnifier for help in reading labels. Tech-savvy patients might appreciate a list of menu planning apps to try out.

Ready-to-Eat Options

Many supermarkets offer a large selection of healthy entrees and side dishes in their prepared food sections. These foods are easy to reheat and cheaper than restaurant meals. They usually list calories and nutrition information so people can make healthy selections. Encourage patients who are unable to cook at home, or simply don't have the time, to check out these options instead of dining out.

Better Choices

Teach those patients who insist on dining out about different ways they can make better choices. Most restaurants offer a selection of vegetable side dishes instead of fatty french fries. Meats and salads can be served with sauces and dressings on the side. Encourage patients to box up half of large entrees for the next day's lunch; this saves both calories and money.

Although dining out is a fine choice for a treat, it may not be the best option for your regular meals. Save money and get better health by limiting how often you're dining out and making better choices when you do. Help your patients to eat out less by offering suggestions and tools to make dining at home easier.

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