Quick Thoughts: Restaurant Habits and Nutrition Perceptions

dining room

Workaholic habits and society standards have pushed many Americans to settle into eating restaurant meals on a regular basis. At what point did we go wrong in passing down the tradition of cooking from home and eating as a family?

From my experience working with groups in community nutrition settings and with individuals in the inpatient/outpatient clinical setting, most people consistently eat at restaurants. Some have a scheduled take out order every Thursday, or eat lunch at certain restaurant with a group of people every Monday and Wednesday. Restaurants have created a convenient meeting and eating place for friends and families. So what could be so bad about that?

Some restaurants, typically non-chain, family owned, have genuine nutrition benefits in mind when creating menus. Restaurants that create menus based on locally available food and sustainable products generally have healthier options. These types of eateries are also usually more conscious of waste (since they do not receive pre-made meals from big box suppliers.)

Chain restaurants are more popular for creating fast meals with large portions. The meals are designed to look the same if you go to the same place in Florida or Colorado. Local food is usually not an option. I have personal experience working in a chain restaurant and from what I know, the health of the individual and the environment generally take second place to the presentation of the food.

So what are the main issues between these differences? From a nutrition standpoint there are a few:

  • Chain restaurants are coming out with “healthier” eating options. While this may appear like a good thing (and I hope that it is heading in the right direction), this food is still overprocessed, frozen-to-serve food. Patients of mine believe that since it says “healthy” or “low-cal” or “vegetarian” or “gluten-free” it will be better for them. The truth is they can make the same meal better in their own kitchen.
  • Eating most weekly meals out is encouraged by our busy, impossible work schedules. Because of our busy schedules, food preparation is becoming faster and faster. This leads to more food items that are available to be flash frozen and re-warmed on site. Restaurants cater to rushed businesspeople. The problem here is people do not realize they could save more time and money if they simply packed their lunch the night before.
  • Patrons using restaurants as meeting places tend to overeat. People become engrossed in their social situation and may not realize how much they are actually consuming. A healthier meeting option would be a local park. Food, especially sodium rich restaurant food, should not be used as a focal point for social events.

How can we break the cycle? Convincing individuals to cook at home and pack their own lunch is like pulling teeth lately. Sometimes it feels like the restaurant industry is winning this battle. What are some options for swaying people to 1) eat at health conscious, non-chain restaurants, and 2) eat at home more?

Image Credit to Creative Commons user Mark Sardella

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