Nutrition Articles

85 Tips & Strategies for Dining Out

Take the Challenge Out of Dining

Many people stumble here as they make split-second decisions and rationalize away poor choices. But since you have a plan ahead of time, it should make it easier to stay on course. If you’re faced with a menu and no time to prepare, there are still a number of rules of thumb and tricks you can use.
  • Try to order first. Listening to everyone else’s choices can be pretty tempting.
  • Don’t ever be shy about asking questions or making requests. The food is every bit as important as the restaurant, the table and the setting, so make sure it’s what you want.
  • Try ordering menu items a la carte. Platters, combos and meals may come with extras you might not want. For example, a group of side items can make a great meal and fruit can make a delicious appetizer.
  • Ask about the size of the dish. This could be important information when watching calories.
  • You can add vegetables to just about anything (salad, pasta, soup, cheeseburgers) if you just ask.
  • Watch out for cheese, sour cream, gravies and special sauces.
  • Ask for your food not to be prepared with butter, cream sauces or oil
  • When in doubt, opt for brighter color. Most high-calorie, high-fat menu items are brown, beige, white or pale yellow (other than some desserts, of course).
  • Don’t feel rushed into making a hasty decision. Just because your server is in a hurry doesn’t mean you have to be. At the same time, if you’ve made a healthy decision, stop looking at the menu immediately.
  • Try ordering one course at a time. Order a healthy appetizer, but don’t order your soup or salad until you’re finished, then eventually your entrée. Sure, you may be starving now, but how will you feel in 20 minutes after the appetizer? Still feel like facing that pile of country fried chicken? Take your time, relax and enjoy.
When faced with a menu, the first reaction of many dieters is to skip right to the entrees without considering an appetizer. While they may believe they’re eating less this way, jumping right into the heavy stuff when hungry may actually load on more calories. To stave off hunger or the desire to binge, try to start with something other than the entrée.
  • The good news is that this “something” can come from anywhere on the menu, not just the Appetizer section. Look at other parts of the menu (Salads, Soups, side items, even breakfast items) for healthy starter options.
  • Some great starter options: fruit, melon, steamed seafood, smoked salmon.
  • The kitchen may be able to put together a small vegetable tray for you upon request.
  • Broth-based soups or consommé can be a tasty first course.
  • Avoid anything fried or breaded, and be wary of any item that comes with a dip.
  • If you do end up with something breaded, peel off the coating; much of the fat usually resides here.
  • Avocado is high in fat, so take it easy on the guacamole.
  • Use ketchup, mustard, bbq sauce, salsa or taco sauce instead of mayonnaise, tartar sauce or any creamy sauces or dips.
Often high in fiber, the right soups and salads can curb hunger and add a bunch of vegetables and nutrients to your meal. Much better to be filling up on leafy greens at the beginning of your meal after all, than munching on those last few dozen french fries on your plate.
  • Salad bars can be good or evil, depending on how you use them. Pass over the grated cheeses, eggs, creamy dressings, bacon, croutons, pasta salad, potato salad and macaroni salad, and stick with the staples of sliced carrots, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, snap peas, raisins, nuts, garbanzo beans, fruit and other fresh produce. That alone can be quite a meal.
  • Ask for extra vegetables on your house salad.
  • Spend a little extra and order the spinach salad or one with more vegetables. House salad greens often lack nutrients and taste and try to make up for it with more high-calorie toppings.
  • Always get your salad dressings on the side. Instead of pouring it on top, dip your fork in the dressing before taking a bite.
  • If you can’t find low-fat dressing options that you like, try a squeeze of lemon, or vinegar with a touch of oil.
  • “Meal” salads often have more toppings than veggies. Avoids salads piled with breaded chicken, olives, cheese, bacon, eggs and croutons.
  • Taco salads are notorious for seeming healthy, but actually being high in calories. Much better to start with a house salad and ask the kitchen to add on ingredients and taco flavorings.
  • Avoid creamy soups like chowder or bisque, which can be loaded with fat and calories. Instead, try broth-based soups, like minestrone, wonton, beef barley, gazpacho, consumme, tortilla, or the classics like chicken noodle or vegetable.
  • Bean or pea soups (like split pea, bean and ham, lentil, black bean or navy bean) have more calories, but are so packed with fiber and nutrients, and are so filling, that it may be worth it.
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