Portion size and controlling what ends up on your plate (and thus in your stomach) are both vital ingredients for weight management. Whether dining out for convenience, enjoyment or a little bit of both, restaurant meals typically have major pitfall potential. Even if you do manage to resist the side of fries and decadent desserts, there are still plenty of calorie traps from the salad course to your beverage choices.
Luckily, there are a few dietitian-approved menu hacks — beyond holding the mayo and swapping your fries for greens — to help you slash calories and stay on track.
1. Always ask for dressing on the side — but don’t stop there.
“The average restaurant gives enough dressing for a family of four,” says Keri Gans, RD, author of “The Small Change Diet.” “You probably only need a quarter of what they give you. So even when you do get your vinaigrette on the side, use it sparingly. Remember you can always add more, but you can’t exactly scrape it off.
2. Say goodbye to the bread basket.
As much as it might break your heart, don’t let your waiter even put the bread basket on the table. If you can’t resist a little taste of that dipping oil, have the waiter take it away after you’ve grabbed your slice. Staring down the whole basket while you wait for your meal to arrive will leave you susceptible to mindless munching, since we have a tendency to eat whatever is in front of us. “If bread is a must for you, then make sure what you order doesn’t also consist of carbs, such as potato, rice or pasta,” says Gans.
3. Go bunless with burgers — especially if you’re going to have the fries.
Gans recommends limiting your toppings to lettuce and tomato since the meat itself is high in calories and fat. “No cheese,” she says. “Even healthy avocado is a ‘no’ here.” In this case, you can’t have your beef burger and eat it, too, but if you’re not attached to the red meat, swap your patty for leaner turkey or chicken.
4. Order half-portions of pasta.
Even if smaller lunch portions aren’t on the menu, ask whether the chef can do a half size with a side of sautéed veggies. If they can’t, ask your waiter to box up half of your massive pasta portion before they even bring it to the table. Not only will you eat less, you won’t have to worry about lunch tomorrow.
5. Go fishing.
Since you’ll probably eat the entire portion of fish on your plate (no one wants to be that guy reheating fish in the breakroom), choose wisely. Gans recommends trying a white fish, which tends to be lighter in calories than fattier fish like salmon and tuna.
6. Chop your salads.
Most salads are served big, leafy and aesthetically pleasing. But according to Gans, this also can prompt you to use more dressing to get everything evenly coated. Save some dressing (and calories) by asking the chef to chop whatever salad you order so it’s a little easier to dress.
7. Rethink dessert.
If there’s no fruit option on the dessert menu and you’re hankering for a post-dinner sweet treat, ask your server. Oftentimes, the kitchen can put together a fruit plate. Alternatively, sub a skim decaf latte for the espresso mousse on the menu. “Add a little sugar, and you won’t miss dessert,” says Gans.
8. Drink up.
The water on your table is not just for decoration. “The water can help fill you up and also help to slow down the wine drinking,” says Gans. Aim to finish your first glass before the meal comes.
9. Rethink your apps.
You’d think that if you’re trying to save calories, avoiding the appetizer menu at all costs would be the name of the game. But you should actually consider looking a little more closely and ordering off the app menu for your main course. According to Gans, appetizer portions are often a lot closer to actual portion sizes as opposed to the mammoth meal sizes that tend to come on an entrée menu.
10. Start sharing.
If you can’t stop drooling over the 14-ounce filet, ask someone to split it with you. Then order a side of sautéed veggies, like broccoli with a little garlic and olive oil, to complete your meal.