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How to Eat Healthy at a Restaurant

How to Save Hundreds of Calories, but Still Eat Out

It turns out that posted calorie counts on restaurant menus aren't always accurate. For those of you watching your weight, this might feel like a major blow, but it doesn't have to be. The next time you dine out, follow these easy tips to keep calories in check.

Research the menu before you go
A few days before the reservation, check out the restaurant's menu online. It gives you time to assess if there are healthy menu options, and, if there isn't, you can call the restaurant ahead of time to see if it can make any modifications to its menu for your diet. Most restaurants don't mind making a diet-friendly plate, but giving advance notice will give the chef time to think out a special plate for your needs.

Skip the bread basket
The bottomless bread basket is an easy way to tip the scale when you're watching your weight. (Not to mention that the crusty baguette is probably made from refined grains.) The average piece of bread contains about 100 calories, while a pat of butter adds another 36. The apps haven't even hit the table and you've already eaten 150 calories. If you absolutely can't pass on the bread, try and limit your portions and skip the butter for olive oil and balsamic vinegar instead.

Pick items that are made using healthier cooking methods
When dining out, avoid items that are deep-fried or cooked in a pan (avoid anything that says sauté, stir-fry, or pan-fried); instead, choose items that are grilled, broiled, steamed, or raw — these items are normally cooked without a ton of added fats. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, so read the descriptions carefully to see if there are added fats like cheese or a heavy sauce. If you're concerned, simply ask that your meal be prepared "dry," which is a cue to the kitchen to prepare your dish without added oil or butter. Save on calories even further by choosing lean proteins, or, skip the meat altogether and go heavy on the veggies!

Go family-style, or save some for later
Restaurant portions are huge. When dining out with friends, consider going family-style and splitting a few entrees and appetizers amongst yourselves. If sharing isn't your thing, ask your server to box half your meal before it even makes it to the table. You can also cut portion sizes down by ordering an appetizer as your main course.

Be careful with what you drink
If calories are a huge concern for you, skip on soda, cocktails, and wine, and opt for water instead. But, if you like to imbibe on a night out, it's definitely possible to order a drink that falls right around 150 calories (or in some cases, under!). To keep drink calories to a minimum, choose wine or beer, or a cocktail made without a lot of added sugar, fruit juice, or soda. And, if the restaurant has sake, soju, or shochu, ask that your cocktail be made with those spirits instead — this small change can save you about 70 calories. Unsure of what cocktails make the diet-friendly cut? Here are my favorite low-calorie cocktails — you might be surprised at how many choices there are!

Don't be afraid to ask for substitutions
While some restaurants have a strict "no substitutions" policy, others are more than happy to accommodate requests. If you didn't have time to call ahead, my advice is to keep it simple: sauce or dressing on the side, less sugar in your cocktail or less butter/oil in your dish, or swapping out a starch for a fresh vegetable. Stick to requests that won't require the kitchen to come up with an entirely new dish. If you need extensive modifications, call ahead.

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