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Eating out at a restaurant should be a fun experience, a treat even. (After all, you've don't have to cook or do the dishes!) But if you're trying to lose weight or even just hold steady and not gain pounds dining out can be difficult. The good news: It is possible to enjoy a great meal away from home without breaking your calorie bank. These 7 strategies will help.
Read the whole menu. Don't get fixated on the first dish you spot. Continue on to get a feel for all that's available. (Yes, you did pick the healthiest quesadilla but scroll along - you haven't even gotten to the whole section of fajitas, which are probably a better choice overall.) Estimate the calories before you make a decision about what to order.
Be the first to order. A grilled chicken salad may lose some of its appeal after you've heard a round of people ask for a cheeseburger with a side of French fries. Volunteer to go first and you won't be swayed by the rest of the gang. In fact, you may inspire them to order more healthfully.
Start with a salad. Many restaurants bring out bread (or a similar starter) to nibble on while you're looking over the menu. It can be easy to eat too many of these "appetizers," so if your tummy is roaring when you sit down, quiet it with a few bites of bread, but then order a small green salad or a broth-based soup to tide you over. These choices are often lower in calories and higher in nutrients than what you'll find in the bread basket.
Consider ã la carte. Try getting a soup or salad and an appetizer, or a couple of side dishes, instead of an overly large entree. Many restaurants these days offer smaller "tasting" plates or tapas-size portions too. They are worth a try and often just right in size.
Split the difference. If an entree sounds like too much food, see if one of your dining companions would like to share it with you. Or set aside half of the food as soon as it arrives and ask the waiter to wrap it up for you. In doing so, you've not only cut your calorie intake in half, you've also just solved the problem of what to have for lunch tomorrow.
Ask for sauces and dressings on the side. Most restaurants use a heavy hand with toppings; they just can't help themselves. When it's on the side you can control the amount without having to miss out. Rather than pouring it on, dip the tip of your fork into the dressing or sauce, then take a bite of food, so you'll get a little taste in every bite.
Ask questions. Is there cream in the butternut squash soup? Is butter used in preparing the grilled chicken and, if so, is it possible for the chef to skip it? Request that food be prepared your way, within reason (asking for a salad on the side instead of chips is reasonable; asking to have the fish-and-chips special steamed instead of fried is not). Be polite but unapologetic; remember, restaurants are in the service business. Most are more than willing to accommodate your request after all, you're paying!
Reprinted with permission from EatingWell Magazine.