Extension and Ag Research News


| Share

Prairie Fare: Here’s How to Dine Out Healthfully

You can cut calories and still enjoy eating out.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“What’s your favorite episode of ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’?” my daughter asked her siblings.

Her brother and sister began describing the antics of SpongeBob, a yellow kitchen sponge who lives in a pineapple at the bottom of the sea. He works as a dedicated fry cook with an interesting bunch of characters at a restaurant. My kids were greatly amused by this character and, evidently, still are.

Yes, it is a silly show. I liked the episode where he became sentimental as he wore his special childhood “cookie eating hat” at his grandma’s house, by the way. I was feeling a little nostalgic myself.

Our family of five was enjoying a relaxing meal at a restaurant. I grinned as I listened to them reminisce about cartoons they watched as kids. Eating at restaurants wasn’t always this easy.

Thinking back, our infant son was easy to carry around in his car seat. My husband called our son “the bucket of baby” as he carried him into restaurants. Our son watched us intently as we ate. I think he wanted to start eating solid foods as soon as possible.

Three years later, his sister arrived on the scene and we still managed OK in sit-down restaurants. One of us bounced our baby and the other entertained our toddler. Sometimes, if we weren’t watching closely enough, our son would escape from our table to explore the restaurant. He was fast on his feet.

Then our third child arrived, and we were outnumbered. We stopped eating out for quite some time because eating at home was less expensive and less stressful. The restaurant options for kids were quite limited, and our kids almost always had the same thing: chicken tenders.

Our oldest child is now 21 and living on his own. Our 18-year-old daughter is in college and living in a dorm, and our youngest child is at home. Gathering the entire family for a meal does not happen very often any more.

Whether meals are made at home or in restaurants, eating together certainly is memorable, and it helps families connect and communicate. Yes, laughing and reminiscing about an animated kitchen sponge named Bob can be good for family relationships, in my estimation.

We are entering the busy holiday season with concerts, programs, shopping, parties and various events that fill calendars with interesting things to do. We might be grabbing meals at restaurants more often, whether we are with our families or by ourselves.

Meals prepared at home usually are lower in calories than meals eaten away from home. Consider these tips based on the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans to maximize your nutrition while avoiding the “holiday bulge.” Which of these will work for you?

  • To save money and calories, order water as your beverage. If you prefer something flavored, go with a calorie-free option such as unsweetened tea or coffee.
  • Start your meal with a side salad, but order the dressing on the side. Try dipping the tines of your fork in the dressing instead of pouring the dressing on top of the salad.
  • Consider sharing a meal with your dining companion. If you are dining solo, pack half of the entrée into a to-go box before you begin eating. This way, you will have a ready-to-go lunch or dinner to eat in the next couple of days.
  • Check if the restaurant has smaller-sized portions. You might find something on the appetizer menu that will work as a meal.
  • Aim to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Stir-fries and kabobs often are heavier on vegetables than other entrees. Consider the salad bar as your entrée, but choose plenty of “plain” fruits and vegetables instead of ones covered in sauces.
  • Choose whole grains when possible. When the server asks if you want “white” or “wheat,” opt for the “wheat” choice, which usually will be higher in fiber.
  • If the restaurant provides nutrition information, compare your choices. Aim for items lower in calories and sodium.
  • Don’t try to be a member of the “clean plate club.” Take your leftovers home and refrigerate within two hours. Be sure to eat your leftovers within four days.

Here’s a more healthful version of chicken tenders to prepare at home. This recipe is courtesy of the Midwest Dairy Council. Serve with oven-baked homemade french fries or sweet potato fries for a fast-food experience at home. Visit https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food and search the recipe section for hundreds of easy-to-make foods.

Cheesy Chicken Crunchers

1 c. all-purpose flour (can use whole-wheat flour)



4 egg whites

1/2 c. 1% low-fat milk

1 1/2 c. corn flakes, crushed

1 c. (4 ounces) shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese

6 chicken breast fillets cut into strips

Nonstick cooking spray

Barbecue sauce or ketchup

Preheat oven to 375 F. In a small bowl, combine flour with a pinch of salt and pepper. In a second bowl, make egg wash by beating eggs and milk. In a third bowl, combine crushed corn flakes with cheese. Coat a 13- by 9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Dip chicken pieces in flour, then in egg wash, then roll in cheesy flakes mixture, coating the entire piece of chicken. Place on a baking pan. Discard any unused corn flake mixture after coating the chicken. Bake for 25 minutes, turning halfway through to ensure even browning. Serve with your choice of condiments.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 320 calories, 8 grams (g) fat, 37 g protein, 24 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 320 milligrams sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication - Dec. 1, 2016

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, 701-231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, 701-231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
Creative Commons License
Feel free to use and share this content, but please do so under the conditions of our Creative Commons license and our Rules for Use. Thanks.