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Healthy Dining Tips

Dining out is an unavoidable part of life. We dine out for the convenience of it, when getting together with friends and family, celebrating special moments, or for business purposes.

Recently, there has been a lot of news and information about the excessive amount of calories contained in most of the dishes in your favorite restaurants. Something as innocent as a salad can have a whopping 824 calories!

If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of people watching your weight, dining out can certainly derail your weight loss efforts, if you allow it.

While it’s OK to indulge once in a while, you certainly don’t want to consume a day’s worth of calories in one meal.

The CSPI recently published their Xtreme Eating 2010 list which gives you an idea of just how excessive the calories are in some of the items served in many of the popular chain restaurants.

I’m going to share with you my basic tips and tricks on how you can cut back  excessive calories and order a healthy, delicious meal, even in the greasiest spoons!

Preview the Menu
If you are being calorie conscious and don’t want to draw attention to it when you’re out and about, this is a great proactive approach to take.  If you  know where you’re going before you head out, you can go on line and pull up the menu.  This will give you an opportunity to really look over the menu and make your decisions on what you want and how to order it before hand, and order your food with confidence.

If I happen to be going to a popular chain restaurant, more often than not, I can look up how many calories are in the dish I’m considering. A great resource for getting calorie information is The Daily Plate .

The Menu is Your Road Map
When looking over a menu, think of it as your road map.  When I look at a menu, I view it as my road map towards putting together my meal, much in the same way as if I were looking at the ingredients I have on hand at home to create a meal.  The menu tells you what food items are available in that particular establishment and the menu items are simply serving suggestions. If you think of the menu in these terms, you’ll will be able to order a meal to your specifications

If you are at a place that is short on healthy choices and high on greasy, fried foods, you don’t have to order your meal as a “combo”. More often than not, a grilled chicken sandwich and side salad is always a choice on the menu. You can order the sandwich, ditch the bun, and get a plain salad with a side of vinaigrette dressing and don’t forget the ditch the croutons and shredded cheese that usually comes on the salad.

When you’re in a restaurant, you want to choose a lean, healthy, protein. The words you want to look for on a menu are grilled, steamed, baked or broiled. You want to stay away from crisp, crispy and fried.

When choosing side dishes, find out what the vegetable of the day is or always look at the choice of vegetables and order them steamed. Most dishes are served up with a side of chips, fries, loaded baked potatoes or sweet potato fries. That doesn’t mean your meal has to. You can swap those out for two steamed vegetable choices.

If you’re looking to have a salad as your main dish, look at what is in the salad. More often than not, you’ll find that salads are now served with dried fruits, croutons, crispy noodles, bacon bits, and cheeses that are loaded with fat and are usually smothered in high calorie, fat laded dressings – all items you want to avoid. A great example of a salad that sounds great but is loaded with calories and fat is the CPK Moroccan Chicken Salad. According to The Daily Plate, you’d be surprised to learn that a half serving of CPK Moroccan Chicken salad has 412 calories and 50 gms of fat and that’s for a 1/2 serving!

Ask Questions and Order it Your Way!
I always ask the waiter how the food is cooked and what sauces, if any, are served with the dish. I’m not sure if food is served this way in other parts of the country, living in the South, I have discovered that even the finest restaurants love to put butter on top of everything and I always have to tell the waiter to tell the kitchen not to put butter on top of my food. If the food isn’t prepared the way you asked for it, don’t be afraid to send it back.

The way I order my food at my favorite local bar is not the way it is offered on the menu. They do serve grilled sandwiches, however, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to eat the grilled item as a sandwich with the usual side of chips or fries. I play it safe and order on a plate a piece of grilled chicken with a side of steamed veggies and a side of just salad greens. My non-alcoholic beverage of choice is club soda, but if I do have alcohol, I’ll have either a glass of red wine or a lite beer.

If you’re looking to have a salad, don’t be afraid to order it to your specifications. You want to look for words like salad greens, field greens, baby greens or spinach. Many salads offer you the option of sliced grilled steak, chicken or salmon over your salad. Chopped nuts are OK, provided they’re not coated in honey or some other type of sweetener. Avocados are a wonderful, nutrient-rich healthy fat, and are calorie dense, so if your salad does come with them, make sure it’s ½ avocado on your salad. As for the dressing, you want to go with oil and vinegar. If not, choose a vinaigrette dressing and have it on the side. As I mentioned earlier, you definitely want to avoid creamy dressings, even if they say low fat or fat free.

Sushi is a very popular restaurant choice. Some sushi places are now serving their roles with brown rice as an option. Look for restaurants that serve brown rice sushi. If you are eating white rice sushi, be sure to have it in moderation, but it doesn’t hurt to ask if you can get yours made with brown rice.

I was recently at a restaurant that served Chinese Cuisine and Sushi and noticed that brown rice was offered as an option with the Chinese Cuisine, but not with the Sushi. I asked if they could make my Sushi using the brown rice instead of the white rice and they were more than happy to accommodate me.

Mexican cuisine admittedly, does require a lot self control. Yes, the chips and salsa can be very hard to resist. If at all possible, try to limit the amount of chips you eat or do your best to avoid them all together. When in a Mexican restaurant, Fajitas are your best bet. I always order mine without sour cream and cheese. Avoid eating the flour tortillas that come with them. You’ll want stick to the meat and veggies and you can pour some salsa over it. Avoid refried beans. If black beans or pinto beans are an option, go with that. The yellow rice that is served is white rice that has been seasoned with saffron to give it the yellow color. If you do eat the rice, try to eat ½ of it or avoid it all together and instead, opt for the Mexican side salad that comes with your dish. If you are going to have an alcoholic beverage, rather than ordering a Margarita, order a Lite Beer instead.

Authentic Greek Cuisine has a wide variety of healthy choices, but do be careful with how much Feta Cheese you eat. The chick pea/garbanzo bean salad along with whole wheat pita bread wedges makes for a great appetizer. There are so many great seafood/fish choices and many of them are served broiled or grilled along with roasted or grilled vegetables.

Italian cuisine has so many carbohydrate rich temptations. Know your temptations. It’s so easy to fill up on garlic rolls and garlic bread before your meal comes. Ask your server to either not give you bread, or, limit the serving. Avoid dishes served in cream sauces, Alfredo, Marsala or Lemon Butter Sauce. Look for seafood or fish dishes served in a Fra’ d’avlo or Marinara sauce if you’re not bothered by spicy or tomato based sauces. If those do bother your stomach, then you may want choose garlic and oil.

Most dishes are served over pasta. Ask for the pasta on the side. This will help you to either not eat the pasta or, you can control your portion by spooning 1/3 of the portion into your main dish to avoid over eating.

Having coffee and dessert? More often than not, you will find fresh fruit on the menu which is always a great choice.

One last piece of advice. It’s OK not to clean your plate so don’t feel as if you have to. Too often we continue eating until we’re stuffed to the gills and are left feeling bloated and uncomfortable.

Bon Apetit!

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  1. 5 Comment(s)

  2. By Juan J Ramirez | Reply

    Eat slowly to avoid overeating; savor each bite, you will be able to stop eating when you are satisfied not full.

  3. By Teresa Martini | Reply

    I have found that by putting down your fork after each bite helps you to take your time eating and enjoy what you are eating. I also use my senses with each bite as well before I start chewing and I chew my food about 25-50 times before swallowing so I can savor each bite and in that way I am not tempted to overeat.

  4. By certification review for pharmacy technicians | Reply

    My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

  5. By emt training | Reply

    I’ve recently started a blog, the information you provide on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

  6. By Robert | Reply


    You make a lot of great points in your article. As you mention, one of the easiest ways to help prepare for dining out is to look up the establishment’s menu online. Nowadays, it seems like everyone and everything can be found online, so a certain menu usually isn’t that tough to find.

    You also make a great point in that you don’t have to simply take something as a combo. Feel free to mix and match sides if you need to. Most places will be happy to work with you to make sure you get the perfect meal. If you want a side salad instead of fries, just ask!

    The only point of contention I have with the article is the point about butter. Personally, I’m a huge fan of butter as long as it’s the real stuff. In my opinion, fatty foods are not a problem as long as the fat comes from the right sources. Avocados, meat, certain oils, and of course real butter are all on my do-eat fat list. I’ll take my food cooked in butter over vegetable oil any day!

    Even though I disagree with you on a minor point, I don’t want to take away from the value of your article. Overall, it’s super informative and full of great tips everyone should try and use.

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