Whether it’s a sit-down restaurant or a fast-food drive-thru, we all enjoy the chance to eat out now and again. It’s a nice opportunity to relax, socialize and let someone else do the cooking for a change. But for those of us trying to manage our weight, the sheer variety of tantalizing (and unhealthy) menu options available can make sticking to a diet a pretty tall order. Thankfully, healthier choices do exist — you just need to know where to look. Keep the following guidelines in mind the next time you’re out to lunch so you can enjoy delicious dishes and still come out ahead in the battle of the bulge:
Keep portions in check.
- Modern restaurants are notorious for monstrous portion sizes. Look for smaller plates or lunch-sized entrees on the menu so you can enjoy your meal without overdoing it.
- At the drive-thru, seek out the smallest-size options you can and steer clear of any offers to upsize.
- If you just can’t pass up a full-size entree, consider boxing up half of your meal to enjoy later at home. Or go dutch and split it with a friend!
- Watch out for “all-you-can-eat” and buffet-style offerings — the variety of dishes available combined with the desire to “get your money’s worth” can make it all too easy to overeat.
Ditch fat, not flavor.
- Don’t be afraid to ask how a dish is prepared. A good rule of thumb: foods that are described as “broiled,” “poached,” “grilled,” “baked” or “steamed” are usually better for you than those that are listed as “battered,” “fried,” “crispy” or “creamy”.
- Request to have high-fat sauces, dressings and condiments served on the side. That way, you’ll have more control over how much you use.
- Opt for light salad dressings over heavy choices like bleu cheese or ranch. A classic vinaigrette is a great choice that’s available just about everywhere.
- Go ahead and have a hamburger once in awhile. Just make sure you skip the high-fat add-ons like cheese, bacon and mayo.
- Need a sandwich fix? Go for leaner deli meats like turkey or roast beef instead of heavier options like salami, bologna and pepperoni.
Don’t forgo your five a day.
- Swap out high-fat fries, chips, onion rings, loaded mashed potatoes and mac and cheese for steamed, sauteed or grilled vegetables, a baked potato or fresh fruit.
- Bulk up pizzas and sandwiches with extra veggie toppings. They taste great and the added fiber will help keep you fuller longer.
- Look for vegetarian options when possible. Indian, Thai and Middle Eastern restaurants in particular are great places to go for mouthwatering meatless meals.
Choose a smarter sip.
- Take a pass on sugary soft drinks. Plain water is always your best bet, but unsweetened iced tea and sparkling water are refreshing, guilt-free options too.
- Meeting up for a cocktail with friends? Keep in mind that many happy hour favorites are loaded with empty calories. Stick to dry wine or spirits and look for low-cal mixers like diet cola or club soda. A twist of citrus is another great way to add a pop of flavor without adding sugar. And most importantly, don’t forget — moderation matters!