Low Calorie Guide to Dining Out

If you are like most people, you have no problem making low calorie food choices at home but you have a hard time when you eat out at a restaurant or at a party. You don’t need a crash course on willpower. You just need to get smart about how to eat out and not gain weight. It's all a matter of planning, strategy and practical tips

Skip the bread rolls
Good food takes time to prepare so most restaurants have at least a fifteen minute waiting period before your order arrives. So they serve you the typical breadbasket with butter or olive oil on the side. It’s tough to say no when the bread is right there in front of you. If you tell the waiter up front not to bring out the bread, you will save yourself approximately 70 calories per small dinner roll, 140 for a big one, 35 calories per pat of butter (about one teaspoon worth), and 100 calories per tablespoon of olive oil.

Salad bar tricks
Many people choose the salad bar over the main course in the belief that they are saving themselves extra calories. But salad can be a high calorie trap. Fresh vegetables are low in calories but salad dressings are not because almost all dressings are made with oil or mayonnaise.

Always ask for the salad dressing on the side. Measure out a tablespoon. Either pour the entire tablespoon and toss your salad very well or keep the dressing on the side. Dip your fork in the dressing then spear your salad greens. If you use the serving ladle, you can easily end up pouring four or five tablespoons of salad dressing (100 calories per tablespoon).

If the restaurant offers it, use low-calorie salad dressing. Don't go overboard though. Also watch out for egg, tuna, or macaroni salad made with mayonnaise. Whenever anything is coated all over with mayonnaise, you can be sure it will pack a caloric wallop.

Be a finicky customer
Restaurants would like nothing more than for you to return again and again. Armed with this knowledge, take courage in becoming a finicky customer. If you say it in a nice way, the waiters and manager will be more than willing to accommodate your requests.

Investigate the menu thoroughly. Find out how the vegetables are cooked. Are they smothered in butter? Is it possible to have them without the butter? Can they grill your pork chops instead of frying them (even if fried pork chops are the only thing that are printed in the menu)? I have asked for chicken without the skin, cheese and broccoli soup with only half the cheese, and paper napkins to soak up oil-laden but delicious churros.

Out of sight, out of mind
Tell the waiter to remove the potato chips or French fries from your plate before it even gets to you. The minute you see the chips or fries, you have to do battle with your willpower. Guess who wins?

Save yourself the hassle and have all tempting items removed from your sight. Ask the waiter to substitute low calorie sidings like steamed vegetables.

Stay away from fried or oily food
Many food entrée's start out low or moderate in calories but become high calorie items once they are fried. The potato is an example of this transformation. A potato by itself is relatively low in calories until it soaks up all the oil it is fried in. On the other hand, a baked potato starts out very innocent but then is “corrupted” by butter or sour cream.

Always look for food on the menu that is grilled, baked, broiled, boiled, baked or lightly stir-fried. You don't need the excess calories that come with the deep-frying.

Share the dessert
Dessert can be a healthy pleasure if you eat it infrequently and in moderation. Enjoy dessert without loading up on excess calories by sharing it with a friend or two. If possible, ask the waiter to divide the dessert in the kitchen so you aren't tempted to take more than your fair share.

Doggie bag tips
Many restaurants are now following the American tradition of serving huge portions. Unless you are sharing your meal with your friends, you may be tempted to finish everything that is on your plate. This is in spite of the fact that when the meal is first set before you, you gasp in amazement at its size and wonder how anyone could ever finish this big a portion. Before you know it you've finished every last morsel. I know because it happens to me.

If you have never eaten in the restaurant before or have never ordered that dish before, ask the waiter to show you visually just how big the portion is. Ask him to put half of it in a ''doggie bag'' to take home later. This should occur in the kitchen before you even see your meal. Later may be too late – the food is already going home in your stomach. This tactic only works when you are ordering a la carte. It is, obviously, an inappropriate technique for a buffet or party.

Don’t pig out at the buffet
The first thing to do is erase the ''I've got to get my money's worth'' mentality. Get small portions and take your time chewing and enjoying the food. This gives your appetite mechanism in the brain time to tell your stomach that you are satisfied and have gotten full value for your money.

Look carefully at the whole buffet before you fill your plate. Make a mental note of what dishes appear to be high in calories. How can you tell? Anything fried, oily, creamy, saucy, or starchy would be suspect.

Ask yourself if there is anything among these dishes that you would really like to eat. If there is, get a small portion to satisfy your craving. Then fill the rest of your plate with moderate portions of the dishes that are lower in calories.

It would be very foolhardy to go to a buffet on a totally empty stomach ravenous with hunger. Eat something at home like an orange or an apple before going out.

If in spite of all these strategies, you still tend to pig-out every time you see a buffet, then order a la carte or go to another restaurant that doesn't have a buffet. Running away from temptation is half the battle won.

Surviving lunch or dinner parties
To survive a lunch or dinner party with out filling up your fat cells requires a combination of the tactics mentioned above. Definitely eat something a little substantial but low-calorie at home. You never know when lunch or dinner is actually going to be served at the party. You will literally devour the food if you are starving.

Eat small portions of favorite dishes. The goal is to enjoy the food and the company of your friends without feeling deprived or guilty the next day.

Alcoholic drinks can be high in calories. Drink in moderation or water down your drinks to make them last longer. Have fun but keep on your guard against the excess calories that look better on the plate than on your body.

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