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Smart Choices When Dining Out

Do you eat out often? If you do, here are some tips that can help you choose foods that will be lower in calories. When choosing a restaurant, be mindful of those that offer “light” or “heart-healthy” menu selections. Remember, restaurants pride themselves on customer service, so don't be afraid to ask for special low-calorie or low-fat entrees.

  • Fresh salads help to fill you up without adding a lot of extra calories. Go easy on the bacon bits, croutons, cheese, and mayonnaise-based items (macaroni salad, tuna salad, potato salad).
  • For salad dressing, choose reduced-fat or fat-free, lemon juice, or vinegar. Order salad dressing on the side and dip your fork into it before piercing the lettuce.
  • Low-fat cottage cheese and salsa may be used as flavorful salad dressing alternatives.
  • To eat less, order two low-calorie appetizers, or an appetizer and a salad as your meal. Be careful which appetizer you choose because many of them are deep-fried and higher in calories. Try shrimp cocktail or a bowl of vegetable soup.
  • For bread choices, choose whole-grain bread, rolls, or pita instead of croissants or biscuits. The whole grains take longer for your body to digest, will keep you full longer, and are packed with vitamins and minerals.
  • When ordering soup, keep in mind that cream-based soups (clam chowder, creamy potato) are higher in fat and calories than most broth-based soups.
Main entrees
  • Look for words that indicate lower-fat preparation techniques: grilled, broiled, baked, roasted, steamed, or poached. Ask that no extra butter or sauces be added to the foods.
  • Higher fat and calorie techniques for cooking include: fried, breaded, crispy, creamed, or buttered. Gravy, alfredo sauce, cheese, or au gratin also add extra fat calories. Select these less frequently.
  • For sandwiches and burgers, choose condiments such as ketchup, mustard, pickles, salsa, barbeque sauce, or reduced-fat dressing.
  • Avoid or use sparingly mayonnaise, sour cream, or any “special sauces” that usually contain hidden calories.
  • When ordering pasta dishes, choose tomato-based sauces rather than cream-based sauces.
  • For pizza toppings, choose a variety of veggies and request half the normal amount of cheese to be used. Try one of these leaner meat toppings: chicken, Canadian bacon, or ham.
  • For Mexican food, order burritos, soft tacos, or fajitas instead of hard-shell tacos and tortillas that have been deep-fried. Choose pinto or black beans instead of refried beans, and go with the brown rice without the cheese topping.
  • Request that your omelets be prepared with all egg whites or egg substitutes, and order plenty of fresh vegetables inside.
  • Stop eating when you are full - listen to the cues your body tells you. Mindful eating includes eating slowly and enjoying the food.
  • Restaurants tend to serve large portion sizes. Consider taking half your meal home and enjoying it for another meal. You may also request half-portion sizes.
  • Instead of French fries, try a baked potato, steamed vegetables, a green salad, a cup of vegetable soup, or fresh fruit. Many restaurants have a variety of side dishes. Ask your server what other options they offer.
  • Top a baked potato with broccoli or salsa. Or ask if any low-fat salad dressing is available. If using sour cream or cheese, sprinkle lightly to decrease the calories.
  • To save some calories, drink water, diet soda, or unsweetened tea or coffee.
  • Ask for calorie-free sweeteners to add to beverages if none are brought to your table.
  • Get some extra calcium, and order low-fat or non-fat milk, if available.
  • Enjoy the natural dessert of fresh berries or fruit.
  • Try frozen yogurt, sorbets, or angel food cake.
  • If you choose a higher-fat dessert, get two forks and share it with someone else. Half the dessert means half the calories! Sometimes, just a few bites of a sweet treat is all you need to satisfy your sweet tooth.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 1/28/2010...#13373