February is American Heart Month and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. If you’re planning on treating your Valentine to a fancy restaurant dinner or a hearty home-cooked meal, be sure the menu is safe and heart-healthy. Here are some tips to make healthier choices on Valentine’s Day (and every day).
- Assess the scene – Food safety is priority so look for the health inspection score (you may be able to access the health inspection reports online) and certificates verifying the staff is trained in food safety practices. Take a look around to ensure the glasses, silverware, napkins, and tablecloths are clean.
- Know the facts – Look up the nutritional information in advance – most major restaurants chains have this data online. You can identify the healthier dishes and plan ahead.
- Beware of unexpected sources of sodium – More than 40% of sodium that we eat comes from these common foods: bread and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, poultry, soups, cheese, meat dishes, and snacks. Luckily, most restaurants offer lower sodium options for entrées and dressings, so be sure to check the menu or ask the staff.
- Ask before ordering – Unless they are commercially pasteurized, raw or undercooked eggs can be a hidden hazard in foods (ex. Caesar salad, custards, some sauces).
- Order it cooked thoroughly – Remember that foods like meat, poultry, and fish need to be cooked to an internal temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria. To err on the side of safety, order your foods well done.
- Sharing is caring – Restaurants are known for hefty portions so consider sharing one entrée.
- Refrigerate your leftovers – Your dinner was delicious, but you’re too stuffed to finish it. Unless you are going straight home, leave the leftovers there. Food should be refrigerated within two hours of being served, or one hour if the temperature outside is warmer than 90°F.
- Make recipes healthier – Healthier versions of classic recipes are just a click away (thank you, Internet). Get creative and find healthy swaps for saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol in baked goods and other foods.
- Choose low-sodium options – Reach for spices before you reach for the salt, and try adding a citrus element. You may find that you don’t need salt after all. If possible, avoid prepackaged mixes (which may be loaded with lots of salt) or seek low-sodium or salt-free versions.
- Steer clear of frying – Instead, try roasting, grilling or steaming your foods as these methods add little to no fat.
- Keep HOT food HOT – Once food is cooked, it should be held at an internal temperature of 140°F or above. Just keeping food warm (between 40°F and 140°F – also known as the “danger zone”) encourages fast growth of germs that cause foodborne illness/food poisoning. Use a food thermometer to make sure your meal stays out of the “danger zone”.
- Keep COLD food COLD – Cold foods should be kept at 40°F or below.
- Follow the two-hour rule – Throw away all perishable foods (ex. meat, poultry, eggs, casseroles) that have been left at room temperature for more than two hours (one hour if the outside temperature is above 90°F).
- Continue the celebration – Ate to your heart’s content, but still have leftovers? Go ahead and put them in the fridge to eat within three to four days. If you don’t plan on eating it within that time period, stick it in the freezer.