Eating away from home, once a fairly rare special-occasion treat for most of us, has become increasingly common over time. When the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service started keeping records of out-of-home purchases in 1869, only 10% of American food dollars were spent in restaurants. Within 35 years, that number had risen to about 10% and it had doubled again by the end of the Roaring Twenties, to nearly 20%. Today, almost half of the money Americans send on food is spent for meals and snacks outside of the home.


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Today, even though we eat out fairly frequently, somewhere in our psyches we still think of eating out as the rare treat it once was: a time to skip the vegetables in order to leave room for a big dessert. Sure enough, research shows that away-from-home meals are less healthy than home meals.

Restaurant meals include (according to USDA ERS):

  • 22.3% less fruit
  • 31.4% fewer dark green and orange vegetables

  • 26.8% fewer whole grains

  • more total fat (6% more) and more saturated fat, alcohol, and added sugar

Sharing food with family and friends is one of the great joys of life, whether it’s done at home or somewhere else. You can enjoy good food, good friends and good health, by following some of the tips below.

  • Portions tend to be at least double normal size at restaurants. If you share an appetizer, entree, and dessert with your dining companion, you can savor all the elements of a special meal without overeating.
  • If you’re eating alone or your dining partners don’t want to share, eat half your food and take the rest home for lunch or dinner the next day. Your server can box the extra half up at the beginning of the meal, if you think you’ll have trouble stopping at half.
  • If you’d like to see more healthy options at your favorite restaurants, ask for them often: “Do you perhaps have brown rice?” “Can I have that grilled instead of fried?” Restaurants want to cater to your needs.
  • Eat a small, healthy snack before heading out to holiday dinners or parties. An apple and a handful of whole grain crackers will help keep you from indulging in excessive amounts of rich foods – allowing you to slow down and enjoy small tastes.
  • Intersperse each alcoholic drink with a tall glass of water. It will keep you hydrated and avoid overdoing it at celebrations!
  • To put the focus on friends, not just food, stand or sit farther away from the food tables at parties and buffets. Take just one pass through the line, unless you’re loading up on more salad or veggies.
  • Parties often result in an excess of less-healthy foods. Be the one in your social group who brings healthier options to share, and encourage others to do so as well.  Check out our recipes for Corn and Pepper Relish, Edamame Beans, Feta Cheese Spread, Olive Crostini, Mediterranean Stuffed Eggs or Lime Guacamole.