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Quick Tricks: Becoming Restaurant Savvy

It is estimated that adults in the United States eat 50 to 60 percent of their meals outside the home, which can result in some real nutrition blunders.

Not only are you unaware of what (and how much of it) goes into your food, you also have to take extra precautions to make sure you aren’t getting an overload of calories, sugar, and unhealthy fats. Allow me to provide some help:

Don’t go to a restaurant starving. Half an hour or so before heading out the door, grab a very light snack (i.e.: five or six Triscuit crackers dipped in salsa, a cup of nonfat yogurt, half a cup of veggies with hummus).

Beware the bread basket. It’s funny, isn’t it? Someone puts a basket of bread in front of us and we eat it, even if we didn’t ask for it. If any whole wheat varieties are available, reach for those first. Also, beware of buttery breads (i.e.: croissants), which add calories and fat. Lastly, go for balance. If you are hankering for a pasta dish, pass on the bread. If, instead, you are thinking along the lines of a fish and broccoli dinner, give yourself a pass for a small nibble from the basket.

Always ask for sauces, dressings, and gravies on the side. With salads, dip your fork in the dressing before each bite. With sauces and gravies, pour in no more than half of the amount you are given. With fattening condiments such as mayonnaise, dab a very light coating inside one of your sandwich’s bread slices. Even better, ask for mustard instead.

Start with a broth-based soup or salad (except Caesar — it provides as much saturated fat as a large order of McDonald’s fries!) and follow it up with an appetizer, rather than an entrée. Then, feel free to share a dessert with someone else.

When it comes to meat, poultry, and fish, always go for grilled, broiled, baked, roasted, and steamed choices.

At an Italian restaurant, go for tomato-based sauces, rather than cream ones.

• Restaurant portions are HUGE. Forget the childhood “there are people starving in the world!” guilt-loaded parental speeches and, when you’re full, stop eating. If you really loved your dish, ask to take the rest home.

Watch out for liquid calories. A Thai iced tea adds 200 calories to your meal, while a standard 6 and half ounce champagne flute clocks in at 170 calories.

Don’t be afraid to substitute! A salad with fried chicken strips becomes healthier if you replace them with grilled chicken strips. Similarly, brown rice or steamed veggies make for a more nutritious side dish than white or fried rice, or restaurant mashed potatoes.

Make sure you have at least one (non-fried and not smothered in sauce or cheese) vegetable with your meal.

Avoid these nutrition disasters: tempura dishes, refried beans, any pasta dish “alfredo”, “batter-dipped” and “deep fried” items, dark meat chicken entrees, fried rice, scalloped potatoes.



  1. jamie said on May 29th, 2007

    why are refried beans bad? I didn’t know this…

  2. Jane said on May 31st, 2007

    I sometimes forgo dressing altogether and add a few green olives to my salad. I find that the olives add more than enough flavor. I do the same thing with bread sometimes, to keep myself from reaching for a pat of butter.

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