Dining out is fun and convenient, but it can also be expensive, both in terms of your savings but also for your calories. The three questions you should always ask when eating out are: “What is in the dish?” “How is it prepared?” and “What is in the sauce?”
In terms of the first question, you need to know what you are eating, as lighter-colored proteins like chicken, turkey, tilapia, halibut and tofu are lower in calories than their darker counterparts like beef, lamb, tuna and salmon.
Second, knowing how the dish is prepared can save you many calories, as dishes that are fried, glazed, battered or sautéed are laden with higher calorie oils and sugars. Stick with dishes that are steamed, broiled, baked, rubbed or poached. These dishes are also lower in salt, which can cause water retention.
Third, ask about the sauces. Many of the "hidden" calories are in the sauces due to the butters, oils and sugars they are made with. Make sure you find out what's in them and order them on the side. A few of my favorite go-to dishes are chicken, halibut and entrée salads; I just make sure they are prepared the right way. I get the white meat over the dark meat, order the sauces on the side and always take the fatty skin off my poultry or fish.
Another "food" that has both “hidden” and "empty" calories is alcohol. Always order by the glass instead of the bottle, so you are not tempted to consume more than you should. Have one glass of wine at dinner, but avoid ordering a glass if you are waiting for company at the bar. Lighter-colored beers and spirits, like vodka, are usually lower in calories than darker-colored ones, like bourbon. A drink on the rocks, as a shot, spritzer or with club soda, will have fewer calories than one mixed with sugary sweeteners like juices, sour mix, tonic or sodas. And if you like to drink and have a sweet tooth, try ordering either the alcohol or the dessert, but not both. I like my carrot cake a lot more than my wine.
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And speaking of dessert, keep these tips in mind: a fresh fruit plate can sometimes satisfy a sweet tooth and will have fewer calories than heavier desserts. If you get a cake or pie, order it without the sugary sauce or fatty whipped cream. Don't worry -- it's still tasty! If it comes with a lot of icing or side syrup on the plate, leave that for the person across from you. Sorbet has fewer calories than ice cream and is a good lower-calorie topping. And if you have to order dessert, split it with your friend.
Here are some other good tricks of the trade when eating out:
Have a snack before you go out. If your blood sugar crashes because you've gone too long between meals, you will over-order and over-eat.
Try splitting an entrée with your friend. With the size of entrées in America, you can be perfectly satisfied ordering appetizers and splitting one main.
Pass on the bread. When the waiters bring the bread basket, tell them you don't need it. If it sits on the table, it will sit in your belly!
Take it to go. You don't have to finish everything on your plate, so take it to go and enjoy it later.
Look online before you dine. Most restaurants have their menus online. This helps you know what to order ahead of time or change restaurants if they don't have what you need.
Call ahead for substitutions. Some restaurants do not allow substitutions, so it's always good to know ahead of time.
Substitute greens for heavier sides. I like to substitute a side salad or steamed greens for heavier sides like potatoes or fries.
Don't be afraid to be picky. It's your body, and if you settle with your food, you will probably settle in life.