Ten Tips to Avoid Super-sized Portions When Eating Out

Restaurant Meals Are Four Times Bigger Than in the 1950s

A few years ago, my family was traveling through the USA on a multi-state road trip, and stopped in a popular chain restaurant for lunch. Not feeling that hungry, I ordered a soup and salad special, assuming that it would be a fairly light lunch.

I’ll never forget the shock and complete embarrassment I felt when my order arrived at the table. The biggest bowl of soup I’d ever seen heaped with toppings was set in front of me, along with a platter salad and a basket of tortilla chips that probably held at least a family sized bag. Mortified, I asked the waitress if there was some mistake. 

“Oh no, “she chirped happily, “This is the lunch. Let me know if you want more, it’s bottomless!” 

Bottomless? There was enough food on the table to feed all three of us, and it was bottomless?

Welcome to the world of ridiculous portion sizes. Sandwiches as big as your arm, bottomless baskets of fries, endless sodas, and enough food to feed a small army really is the norm in many restaurants. In our experiences traveling through the mid-west and western USA, we constantly ran into a portion size problem. Was it just us, I always wondered? Or is it really an issue?

Our experience was nothing new, I’ve discovered; recently the CDC created an infographic showing just how much portion sizes have changed in the USA since the 1950s in an effort to educate people on how much more food they are actually consuming.  Believe it or not, restaurant meals are now four times larger than they were in the 1950s, with things like pop weighing in at 42 oz from the seemingly tiny 7 oz of the 1950s. French fries have gone from a 2.7 oz portion to 6.7 oz, and some restaurants offer bottomless fries and soda deals with their meals, which allow customers to consume even more. What they are actually consuming is far more sugar, salt, and fat in one sitting than is remotely healthy. If you rarely ever ate out this may not be an issue, but people eat out far more in restaurants now than they used to and as a result, on average people are also 26 lbs heavier. 

What can you do to avoid a portion size meltdown? 

 Don’t be afraid to ask your server about the size of the meal you are ordering. They are often very honest and will tell you if it’s huge (“I only eat half”) or a normal sized portion. They can also recommend meals that are smaller in size.

  Appetizers are often much smaller than entrees and come with no side dishes.You can also often order a half-sized salad, or a smaller portion pasta dish.

  Some restaurants will allow you to order off the senior’s menu even though you obviously aren’t a senior. Just ask and explain that there’s no way you can eat all the food in the regular portion. I've never been told no.

  Share an entrée with a friend, or eat half and take half home for another meal later.

  If you are on vacation, think about picking up some good cheese, pre-packaged salads, bread, and fruit at the grocery store and having a picnic lunch. It’s far cheaper and far healthier.

  Drink water instead of pop; it won’t fill you up nearly as much and has no calories

  Soups, salads, or a bowl of chili are often a much more manageable portion than an entrée

  Give yourself permission to waste the food. So many of us grew up with the "clean your plate" mentality, but remember, you're in control. You don't have to finish it.

  Don't supersize ANYTHING.

  When you have teenagers, they can eat your leftovers, as they are bottomless pits anyway.

The more we ate in restaurants on family road trips, the more tips and tricks we picked up and eventually employed so that we never had to endure the portion overload again. Well, at least most of the time, they still sneak up on you occasionally.

What are your tips for avoiding gigantic portion sizes in restaurants?

She may go by the name Scatteredmom online, but Karen really is anything but scattered when it comes to the kitchen.  Churning out tasty treats within view of the Georgia Strait on Canada's west coast, Karen will hand you an organized weekly meal plan or teach you how to make meals from scratch.  As Mom to a teenage boy, she knows exactly what it takes to keep kids full and happy-which has really come in handy with her job as the Food Editor at Yummy Mummy Club.

A strong supporter of Food Revolution who has been endorsed by Jamie Oliver himself, by day Karen can be found working as a special education teaching assistant, running a kitchen and showing teenagers how to cook nutritious meals for themselves.  By night, when she's not chatting on Twitter and answering cooking questions,  she writes her popular blog Notes From the Cookie Jar, or posting mouthwatering recipes over at Chasing Tomatoes.  Not afraid to give her opinion and passionate about community, Karen spoke at Blissdom Canada 2010 and her writing has been published in Canadian Living magazine, as well as in various online publications. 

Follow Karen on Twitter @scatteredmom