12 Healthy Eating Restaurant Hacks

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Whether a fun social occasion or an everyday reality, dining out poses a challenge for those of us trying to eat better, especially if we want to consume fewer calories. We all know to order a salad instead of fries, but these 12 simple restaurant hacks can also help:

1. Scout the Menu First

Make the better choice the easy choice by checking out restaurant menus online so you can make clear-headed decisions about your order ahead of time.

2. Don’t Arrive Famished

We’re more likely to make poor food choices and consume far more calories when we let ourselves get too hungry. A well-timed 100-calorie snack like a piece of fruit, a few nuts or slice of cheese before eating out can help you stick to your good intentions.

3. Down a Glass of Water as Soon as You’re Seated

Research has shown that having a tall glass of water before a meal can reduce overall calorie intake — likely by triggering our stomach’s “fullness” receptors and decreasing thirst for other beverages. Make it a rule to drink 16 ounces of water before putting anything else to your lips.

4. Read Beyond the Words

Words like “fried,” “creamy,” “crispy,” “cheesy,” “saucy,” “stuffed,” “breaded” and “battered” are typically associated with high-calorie foods. Steamed, roasted, broiled, baked or grilled tend to be better choices.

5. Order an App or Split an Entree

With typical restaurant portions often large enough to serve multiple people, pairing an appetizer with a side salad is a great way to keep portion size in check. If you’re with a health-conscious friend, consider splitting a single entree.

6. Have Half of Your Meal Boxed Before It Ever Touches the Table

As someone who can’t pass up a good burger and fries and likes to finish everything on my plate, this strategy helps me avoid having to make the tough decision of, “Should I eat that second half or not?”

7. Ask for Half the Amount of Starch

Don’t want to trade your fries, pasta or rice for a side salad or steamed veggies? Ask your server to have the kitchen to serve half the amount of starch as they normally do. You won’t be tempted to eat what’s not in front of you.

8. Request Beverages Be Served With Your Meal

One simple way to drink fewer calories and still enjoy something besides water is to ask your server to bring your soda, beer or bubbles with your meal rather than while you wait, saving you from ordering a second round when the food comes and easily saving you 150 calories or more.

9. Dip Your Fork in Salad Dressing

Seasoned salad eaters already know to ask for dressing on the side but rather than drizzling that entire container of ranch onto your greens, dip your fork into the dressing before loading it up. You’ll be surprised how much flavor it provides and how little dressing you’ll use.

10. Enhance Flavor Without Additional Sodium

There’s usually no shortage of flavor in restaurant meals, but if you find yourself looking around for a salt shaker, consider sodium-free flavor enhancers like a dash or two of vinegar or squeeze of fresh lemon instead.

11. Fill up on Veggies First

The principle here is similar to that of having a glass of water before you eat: Filling the stomach with lower-calorie, high-fiber foods like a side salad or vegetable of the day first will trigger the stomach’s satiety receptors and help you feel fuller on fewer calories. (This assumes, of course, that the veg isn’t drowning in ranch dressing or cheese sauce.)  

12. Opt out of Free Refills

Free refills have a way of sneaking their way onto the table, particularly if you’re engaged in conversation. When placing your drink order, simply tell your server you’d prefer to pass on the refill or ask they bring a calorie-free club soda the second time around.

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