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Dining out with an eye on health

Dining out doesn't have to ruin a healthy diet.

Dining out can be a great option when you're just too busy to spend time in the kitchen.

Yet sticking to a healthy diet can be difficult when you're at a restaurant, especially when you're tempted by large portions and the urge to splurge. But with a little planning ahead and some menu smarts, you can enjoy a meal away from home without overdoing it on calories and fat.

Plan ahead

Some things to keep in mind before you even arrive at the restaurant:

Snack first. Have a light snack, such as fruit or a glass of skim milk, before you leave home. This will take the edge off your hunger and help you have more control when you're ordering. If you go in super hungry, you're more likely to overeat.

Choose your venue carefully. Some restaurants post their menu on an outside window or on their website. Review the menu for healthy choices.

Menu smarts

Pay attention to how dishes are prepared. Ask the server what comes in or with a dish. For instance, a garden salad could come with cheese and high-fat croutons.

To help you navigate the menu, try these tips for each course:

Appetizers. When ordering an appetizer, healthy options might include a salad, fresh fruit, marinated vegetables, a broth-based soup, a seafood cocktail, or raw vegetables with a yogurt dip or salsa. Stay away from anything fried.

If you're prone to overindulging in bread or tortilla chips brought to the table, take a reasonable amount and then ask your server to remove them.

Main course. Foods described as fried, basted, au gratin, crispy, escalloped, pan fried, sautéed, stewed or stuffed may be high in fat. Instead, look for entrées that are steamed, broiled, baked, grilled, poached or roasted. You might also:

  • Order a smaller portion size. You may be able to get a half portion or lunch size at dinner.
  • Have a salad first, then an appetizer as your main course.
  • Ask for healthy substitutions. For instance, ask for sauces on the side and vegetables prepared without butter.

Dessert. Lighter sweet options might include fruit, sherbet, sorbet or angel food cake.

Finally, remember to enjoy the whole experience of eating out, including the atmosphere and good company. Eat slowly, and enjoy every bite.

Sources: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; American Heart Association

Reviewed 10/23/2023

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