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Prairie Fare: American Public Eats Out More Than Ever

Americans spend about 46 percent of their food dollar on food away from home.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

"Where do you want to go for lunch?" I asked my kids one recent weekend.

"Do we have to eat out?" my 11-year-old son asked.

I was a little surprised. I thought eating at a restaurant would be a treat, since we usually eat at home.

"Let's eat here!" my 8-year-old daughter announced.

"Stay home!" my 3-year-old exclaimed.

My husband and I glanced at each other. I could tell that neither of us wanted to cook a meal. Our kids have reached ages when eating out as a family is becoming fun again and not an exhausting event.

We compromised. We picked up a pizza and ate it at home.

People are dining out or carrying out more than ever. According to the most recent survey of the National Restaurant Association, Americans spend about 46 percent of their food dollar on food away from home. That adds up to about $2,400 annually for the typical American household.

According to the survey, the more people in the household, the more likely you cook at home. My family resembles the national average.

Overall, single people most often opt for food prepared outside the home. According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 42 percent of singles eat out or dine on carryout foods at least once daily. In households with three people, about 23 percent eat out or carryout once daily.

Carryout or curbside pickup is an up-and-coming trend in the restaurant industry. About 42 percent of restaurant-prepared meals are eaten at the restaurant.

How does all this eating out affect nutrition and health? Unfortunately, cleaning your plate at a restaurant could add some pounds to your frame. Restaurants usually are generous with their portions and the foods may be high in fat and sodium, too.

Try these strategies to enjoy a meal away from home, but not tip the scale in an unwanted direction.

  • Order a "to go" box at the start of the meal. Put half your meal in the box before you begin to eat. Think of it as two meals for one.
  • Order smaller portions if they're available or consider sharing a meal. You may save a little money, too.
  • Consider having an appetizer and salad as your meal.
  • Order vegetables as a side dish. Watch the butter!
  • Order broiled or baked meat entrees instead of fried or deep-fried.
  • Have a side salad. Request a low-fat dressing on the side. Try dipping the tines of your fork in the dressing, then taking bites.
  • Have fruit for dessert. Most salad bars have canned or fresh fruit as an option.
  • If you have a sweet tooth, share a dessert or take half of it home.

If you face the "what's for dinner" dilemma in your home, consider using a slow cooker. A few minutes of morning preparation results in a tasty evening meal at home.

Cheesy Crockpot Swiss Steak

2 pounds beef round roast (1-inch thick)

1/4 c. flour

1/2 tsp. salt

2 chopped carrots

1/4 c. chopped onion

1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

8-ounce can of tomato sauce

1/2 c. American cheese, shredded

Cut the beef roast into four pieces. In a small bowl, mix the flour and salt. Dip each piece of meat into the flour-salt mixture. Coat it on all sides. Put the meat in the slow cooker. Add the chopped carrots and onion. Add the Worcestershire sauce and tomato sauce. Cover and cook on low for eight to 10 hours. Just before serving, sprinkle the cheese on top. Makes eight servings. Each serving has 210 calories, 7 grams (g) of fat, 7 g of carbohydrate and 50 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin A as beta carotene.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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