Eating Smart

Eating Smart When You're Eating Out

It's tough to resist the allure of restaurant dining. After all, eating out means enjoying good food without doing the cooking, serving and cleaning up yourself. But sticking to lighter fare can be a challenge.

The temptation to order fat-laden main dishes and luscious-looking high-calorie desserts is almost overwhelming. But the good news is that nearly every sit-down restaurant offers two sources to help keep you on a lighter course: the menu and the waitstaff.

Oftentimes, a menu helps explain how dishes are prepared and what they include. Your server can fill in the blanks, answering any additional questions. Between the two of them, you should have little trouble ordering a satisfying meal that doesn't break your commitment to healthy eating.

Begin by reading the entire menu, noting which dishes fit into your eating plan. Items that are baked, roasted, poached, broiled, grilled or steamed are not only flavorful, but they tend to be lower in fat than those that are fried. Oven-roasted chicken breast with steamed rosemary potatoes, for example, would be a great dinner choice.

Other light options include savory vegetable stir-fries, lean meat shish kabobs and spicy chicken fajitas or burritos. Or turn to the pasta portion of the menu and consider something with a meatless tomato sauce. Just be sure to avoid pasta dishes with cream-based sauces. Think marinara, not Alfredo.

Similarly, keep away from heavier creamed soups and chowders. Consider broth-based soups instead, such as vegetable, bean or chicken noodle.

Still don't know what to order? Go fish! Fish is a wonderful source of protein and is usually low in fat. Order a blackened tuna steak or herbed poached salmon. Try to steer clear of deep-fried dishes and dinners where a sauce can't be separated from the seafood.

Order an appetizer to help you resist overeating when the entree arrives. Or better yet, make an appetizer your lunch or dinner and really cut the calories. Choose low-fat starters such as a plate of grilled veggies, boiled shrimp with cocktail sauce or a dinner salad.

Pass on salad toppings such as olives, egg yolks, cheese, croutons and bacon, and request extra vegetables and garbanzo beans instead. Ask for a reduced-calorie dressing on the side so you can decide how much to use.

"Grill" Your Waiter

Never hesitate to ask questions or explain exactly what you're looking for in a meal. After all, that's what your server is there for!

What may seem like the obvious choice on the menu might not be right for you. For example, very often restaurants label meals as "healthy" or "light," when actually they serve small portions that are still high in calories. Or, perhaps they serve lighter main dishes with high-fat sides. A lean turkey burger, for example, might be topped with cheese and served with oil-drenched french fries.

Ask your server how "light" meals are prepared and what the serving size is. Find out if substitutions are possible. For instance, ask if you can switch the turkey burger's fries for a baked potato with fat-free sour cream.

You needn't avoid meals that come with rich gravies or sauces. Simply ask your waiter if they can be served on the side so you can control how much you eat.

Foods that are grilled are usually on the lighter side; however, in some restaurants, "grilled" may refer to food that has been fried. If a "grilled" meal catches your eye, ask your server how it is actually prepared.

If something is not prepared the way you'd like, ask if the chef can make an exception. If a breaded chicken breast is fried, there is a good chance that the kitchen will bake it for you instead.