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Dining Out on a Calorie Budget

Tacos. Asian Buffet. Pizza.

These are just a few popular meals to enjoy outside the home that can destroy a hard-earned calorie deficit while trying to lose weight. I'm always going to support cooking and dining at home as much as possible, but I think it's time that I share with you some tips and tricks to keep you on the lighter path when dining out.

Generalized Tips & Tricks

  • Make a plan before arriving at the restaurant. Many restaurants now have their menus online, with calories noted, so that you can choose the lighter option without feeling the pressure of making a decision on the spot. It might help to visualize yourself giving your order... almost like rehearsing!

  • WARNING! Beware of the free and endless appetizer already on the table. Breadsticks, cheesy biscuits, chips and salsa... These items seem to disappear so quickly from the table when shared with family or friends. There are many studies that show that when we eat with others, we eat more. There are two kinds of people- those who can eat one and be done, and those who cannot even have the temptation in front of them. Know which kind of person you are and adjust accordingly.

  • On that note, just skip the appetizer and dessert altogether. Portion sizes are too large for main courses as it is.

  • As just stated, your main course is more food than you need. Here's a couple of tricks that you can try:

  • Split the meal with a friend.

  • Have your server package up half of your meal before bringing it out.

  • Choose the leanest protein possible. Baked or grilled are the best options, skip the fried.

  • Skip anything that is described as "creamy" or in a white sauce. You might be able to make this lighter at home, but it will be loaded with fat and calories at a restaurant.

  • Get the vegetables or salad as the side/s, either baked, grilled, or raw.

  • Beware of sauces and dressings. Your salad or protein may be full of nutrition, but sauces and dressings are often full of salt, sugar, and fat (AKA empty calories). Ask your server what the light dressing or sauce choices are and also if they can be served on the side. Besides, you can add plenty of bold flavor without having to smother or drown your food.

  • Enjoy your meal with a glass of water. Restaurant food is often higher in sodium, causing you to be thirsty. Also, why blow your calorie budget on a drink?

  • Especially when dining at a buffet, please take your time to enjoy every bite. Dining out should be a special treat and the goal should not be to eat as much as possible. It takes time for your stomach to tell your brain that you've had enough to eat, so take your time to eat.

Fast Food

The CDC reports that over 1/3 of American adults have fast food on any given day. I will always try to dissuade you from eating fast food, but the reality is that it is a part of the every day life for some. Here's some fast food suggestions to keep calories lower. Remember that you don't have to use all of these, but making a few adjustments can save you lots of calories.

  • Pizza: choose thin crust, skip cheese or keep it light, add plenty of veggies, and skip high fat meats like pepperoni or sausage.

  • Burgers: skip the cheese or have just one slice, skip the mayo but mustard is fine, shoot for at least 3 oz of protein, skip the fries or at least order a small order, increase the veggies, and skip the bun.

  • Tacos: Skip the sour cream, limit the cheese, use plenty of hot sauce and/or salsa for low-calorie flavoring, and choose grilled chicken or beans more often.

  • Sub Sandwiches: Choose a whole grain bread or wrap, choose a lighter cheese (feta or mozzarella, if available), load up the veggies, and choose a lean protein.

  • Coffee: Find out what "skinny" options you can try for your morning cup of Joe. Choose low-fat milk, sugar-free syrup, and no whip. For many years, I drank a straight up Americano, which is just espresso and hot water, with no milk or sugar. Skip the doughnuts and pastries. Skip the smoothies. Just get coffee at this place.

When dining out, don't forget that you have two budgets to be aware of... Your financial budget and your calorie budget. Even if you are a healthy weight, it is important to make good choices while away from home. As always, this is mostly accomplished by having a plan in place so that temptation doesn't phase you. I hope you feel a little more armed and prepared for your next dining out experience. You CAN do this!

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