Healthy Dining Course

Once upon a time, most Americans ate out only for special occasions, such as birthdays or anniversaries. Today, however, restaurant dining is a daily event for many Americans, and this change comes with an unhealthy price tag.

One reason why regularly eating out contributes to weight gain is because restaurant portions are typically very large. Also, restaurant food is often high in calories and fat and less nutritious than meals prepared at home.

Here are some strategies you can use to reduce the calories and fat in restaurant food without sacrificing the flavor and fun of a meal out.

Watch the appetizers

First-course menu items can be a minefield. That's where you'll often find many high-fat, deep-fried choices. Because most entrées are already two or three times larger than they should be, you probably don’t really need an appetizer at all.

If you do want an appetizer, try a shrimp cocktail, which is low in calories and high in protein. Or, try ordering an appetizer as a main course along with a salad or bowl of soup.

Avoid anything that’s breaded and fried, such as onion rings, or creamy and cheesy, such as artichoke dip.

Keep your salad slim

Salads can make or break your calorie count, depending on how well you pay attention to the details. A simple green salad with oil and vinegar or a low-fat dressing can provide you with one or two servings of vegetables, plenty of vitamins and minerals, and fiber.

A bowl of iceberg lettuce loaded with dressing, croutons, chow mein noodles, and sunflower seeds has too much fat and hardly any nutrients.

Choose sensible sides

Steamed vegetables, oven-roasted potatoes, or wild rice are good choices, Skip anything topped with melted cheese, “loaded” baked potatoes, and french fries.

Monitor the entree

When ordering a healthful main course, be sure to consider how it’s prepared and the portion size.

Here's how to keep this course in line:

  • Choose fish or chicken that’s baked, grilled, or broiled and not topped with buttery or cheesy sauces. Avoid those that are fried, breaded and fried, or described as crispy.

  • Share an entrée with a dining partner or order a half portion.

  • Ask for healthy substitutions. Request a salsa instead of a creamy sauce, for instance.

  • If you want a steak, select a sirloin or filet mignon instead of a fat-laden rib-eye or prime rib.

Do a little dessert

Always finish your meal before ordering dessert, and skip it if you’re stuffed. Healthy choices include fresh berries, sorbet, or a cappuccino.

If you can’t resist a fancy chocolate dessert, order one for your table and split it. That way, everyone gets a taste of dessert, but no so much of the calorie overload.