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The Ins and Outs of Dining Out

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One sad thing about learning how to eat healthfully is that dining out takes on a whole new, much darker dimension. What was once a bliss-filled, belt-notch-loosening pleasure becomes an exercise in culinary terror. Servings are Matterhornesque in size. Supertankers of soda abound. Fries come with your order whether you want them or not. Nary a veggie can be seen for miles.

It's a tough slog, but not insurmountable. We're here to help.

There are a few tricks to consider. But before we start, remember that, even with all the care in the world, healthy restaurant dining is still fraught with danger. It's just not something you should do all the time if you're trying to live a healthy lifestyle. There's a reason diner food tastes so good. The powers that be take every opportunity to shove as much sodium and fat into their food as they can because, sadly, that's what most people find yummy. What you make at home is almost always going to be healthier.

But when you are out, here are a few pointers.

  1. Make smart choices. Almost every menu has grilled chicken or fish hidden in it somewhere. That's what you're looking for. Look for words like "grilled," "broiled," or "steamed." Avoid "sautéed" and "fried" like the plague.

  2. Skip the appetizer. "Appetizer," by definition, means a little food meant to get your appetite going. This may have been chic in ancient Rome, where purge buckets were also quite popular, but obviously, most Americans don't need their appetites increased.

  3. The big salad. Greens are also a great option, but remember that all salads are not created equal. A restaurant tuna salad, for example, is probably going to be a mayonnaise nightmare. Watch out for bacon and croutons. Finally, ask for your dressing, which should be vinaigrette, on the side and just put a tablespoon or two on there.

  4. Side dishes in your mouth mean sidecars on your thighs. You don't need fries, a baked potato, or coleslaw. If that's all that's available, just go without. Even if not on the menu, most restaurants will usually bring you a side of steamed veggies or fruit if you ask.

  5. No bread. There's just no nutritional value here. It's all empty carbs. If buttered, it's carbs and artery-clogging saturated fat. If you take anything away from this article, please make it this: Don't eat the bread. You just don't need it.

  6. Eat half. America, for the most part, finds value in volume, so restaurants do their best to cater to that. They feel the more they give you, the happier you'll be. But remember, nobody's got a gun to your head. You don't have to eat all that pasta. In fact, 99.9% of the time, you'll be fine with half. So when you order, ask for a doggy bag and, when your order comes, chop it in half and dump half of it in there. Close the bag. It's gone. Don't even think about eating it now. If you ordered wisely, it'll be a fine lunch for tomorrow.

  7. No soda? No duh! For those of you whimpering out there because, for some weird reason, the idea of water with a meal is abhorrent, go for iced tea. Because tea is caffeinated, and therefore a diuretic, it shouldn't replace regular water, but it is calorie free (provided it's unsweetened) and it doesn't have any weird artificial sweeteners in it, so drink up!

  8. Dessert? You're joking, right? Really, though, if it can't be avoided, maybe suggest that everyone at the table split a desert. That way, everyone gets a taste of something sweet, but nobody pigs out.
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