Whether you're trying to lose excess pounds or maintain a healthy weight, eating out in restaurants can sabotage your goals.
To better control your calorie intake you need to know how much you eat. But if you're like most Americans, proper serving sizes are a mystery, thanks to mega-burgers, biggie fries, and saucer-sized bagels.
The following suggestions can help you downsize restaurant meals and maintain your weight and health when dining out:
Plan for huge portions. To compensate, share an entrée with a dining companion or order a half portion or an appetizer for a main course. Be careful of appetizers, though; many are particularly high in fat.
Watch for these terms. Any dishes that contain the following descriptive words in their names are high in calories and fat: Alfredo, basted, batter-dipped, breaded, creamy, crispy, deep-fried, pan-fried, scalloped, au gratin, or in cream or butter sauce.
Pass up these sizes. The following words indicate meals that are even larger than the standard ones--combo, feast, grande, jumbo, king- or queen-sized, and supreme. Words such as kiddie, luncheon, petite, small plate, regular, and salad-sized indicate more reasonable portions.
Order the smallest burger on the menu. Super-sized burgers with all the toppings (cheese, bacon, mayonnaise, and special sauces) often contain half the calories and all the fat you should eat in a day. Regular or kiddie burgers topped with ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles (all of which are fat-free) are closer to the recommended meat portion size of 3 ounces and much lower in calories and fat.
Order six-inch subs and go easy on the extras. Subs can be healthy, low-fat sandwiches if made with turkey, ham, or low-fat cheese, served on whole-grain buns, and dressed with low-fat mayonnaise, vinegar, and fresh vegetables. Avoid 12-inch subs, meatballs, steak, classic cold cuts, such as salami and bologna, bacon, and full-fat cheese.
Get a healthy wrap. Wraps are large flour tortillas stuffed with salad ingredients, chicken, fish, beans, and vegetables. They sound healthy enough, but often they're gigantic and loaded with high-fat sauces. For a reasonably-sized meal, order a half-wrap or split one with a friend, and ask for half the sauce.
Measure healthy portions with your hand. A serving of meat, chicken, or fish should be the size of your palm; a serving of potatoes or rice, the size of your fist; pasta, two fistfuls; pasta sauce, one fistful; a roll, the size of your fist; and two slices of bread, as thick as your palm.
Avoid all-you-can-eat buffets. You'll likely overeat to get your money's worth. If the people you're with insist on buffet dining, opt for fresh fruits, salads with low-fat dressings, broiled entrées, and steamed vegetables. Resist the temptation to go for seconds.
Ask for dressings on the side. That way, you control the amount that goes on your salad. Salads made from fresh greens and plenty of vegetables are low in calories and fat-free. To keep the salad healthy, it's necessary to use as little dressing as possible.
Omit the extras. If your companions don't mind, ask the server to remove temptations, such as bread and butter, and chips and dip.
Order first. By doing so, you're less likely to be swayed by your dining companions' choices, which may be loaded with fat and calories.
See how much you know about portion sizes and how they have changed over the years by taking the Portion Distortion quiz from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.