Heading Out To Eat? Research Shows a Rise in Dining Out for Veterans Age 65 and Older

Tips on How to Avoid Widening Your Waistline No Matter Where You Decide to Dine
Ms. Claudia Drum, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, US Army Public Health Command

“Mature Traditionalists” (also known as Veterans and civilian retirees age 65 and older) make an average of 195 restaurant visits per person per year! ¹ This doesn’t necessarily apply to just folks over 65 years old, it also applies to younger retirees. This is up 8% since 2008 according to a survey conducted by the market research company, NPD group. These restaurant visits include breakfasts, lunches, and/or dinners across all restaurant categories. Mature Traditionalists are dining out more often for a variety of reasons to include:

  • The chance to get out of the house and enjoy a meal without the hassle of meal preparation and clean-up
  • Less chance of grocery waste and spoilage
  • An opportunity to socialize and connect with family and/or friends outside of the home

While the rise in dining out has been steadily increasing amongst older Americans, so has their rate of obesity and chronic disease (high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease). Diet and other lifestyle habits (activity level, smoking, alcohol intake, sufficient quality sleep, etc.) play a huge role in helping to manage your weight and your risk for many of these chronic diseases.

Although it is difficult to draw a direct cause and effect relationship, the fact is the more often you dine out, the less control you have over portions, calories, fat, cholesterol, sugar, and salt intake. Today’s typical restaurant plate holds more than double the amount of calories compared to what it held 55 years ago.

To help manage your weight while dining out, follow these tips:

  1. Skip buffets. These restaurants make it very easy to overeat.
  2. Know your entrée. Choose steamed, baked, broiled, grilled, or roasted rather than fried, creamed, breaded, or sautéed. Choose tomato-based sauces (red sauce) over butter or cream-based sauces (white sauce).
  3. Plan ahead. Review the menu for heart healthy entrees and/or ask your waiter to steer you in the direction of the healthiest menu options. Many restaurants have nutrition information available on-site or on their web-site. Check out http://www.healthydiningfinder.com/ to find the best restaurant choices from over 270 restaurants nationwide.
  4. Downsize. Stick to small (half-portions) or share an entrée. Or, box up half of your meal before you start eating and enjoy the rest for lunch the next day.
  5. Re-think your drink. Drink water, low-fat milk, or unsweetened tea with your meals instead of regular soda or alcohol. Restaurant-sized regular sodas can add more than 230 calories and nearly 15 teaspoons of sugar per glass!
  6. Lighten up on your sides. Order a garden salad with a side of low-fat vinaigrette dressing, a broth-based veggie soup, a plain baked potato/sweet potato, or a cup of steamed veggies (no butter) instead of French fries, onion rings, or potatoes smothered in butter or gravy.
  7. Ask for dressing, sauces, and other high-fat toppings (cheese, croutons, butter) on the side. That way, you are in control of what you eat. Keep in mind, 1 tablespoon of regular dressing or mayonnaise (the size of a poker chip) is equivalent to 100 calories and 10g of fat!
  8. Skip Dessert or Choose Wisely. If you must have dessert, try fresh fruit or sorbet. You can also split dessert with a friend/family member or try a dessert “sampler” (a smaller version of the original that is available at some restaurants).

Enjoy eating out with family and friends while balancing your nutrition intake. Making even just minor adjustments to your restaurant meal and beverage choices (i.e., ordering ½ portions and drinking tap water) will help to slash not only your calories, but also your restaurant bill!