You’re used to good ol’ simple home cookin’ because it allows you to control what you put into your food and helps you stick to your diet. However, a friend just asked you out to dinner with the crew and you’re tempted to decline the invitation, in fear of going off track.

Good news: you don’t have to say “no” to the dinner date after all. There are little things you can do to make smart choices when you’re eating out that can help you in very big ways.

1. Know that salads aren’t always the healthiest choice:

Yes, I know we’ve all been raised to think that salads equal healthy and loaded pasta dishes equals bad. However, it’s not that black and white. Restaurants these days are increasing their portions and getting more creative with the simple old fashioned dinner salad, making salads these days sometimes over 1,000 calories.

With huge portions of fried chicken, fatty cheeses, creamy dressings and croutons, it’s no wonder that salads are now on the ‘danger’ list of foods to look out for when eating out.

So, why not skip the traditional boring salad and go for something different, like a grilled salmon or pasta with pesto? And if you’re still craving a salad for dinner, just ask for your dressing on the side and go for grilled chicken or fish rather than fried. You could always ask for it sans croutons and cheese as well for an ultimate healthy boost.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask:

Speaking of asking, that leads to the next tip: DO NOT BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT. This is an extremely important guideline to remember because many people are afraid to ask what they really want in fear of embarrassment or being ‘too picky.’

But, it’s a waiter’s and restaurant’s job to please you, so speak up! If you’d like your chicken or fish cooked in olive oil, ask! Hate spicy food? Fine, speak up! You’re watching your diet and want dressing on the side? No problem!

If you’re polite and explain the way you’d like your food to be prepared, 99% of the time the waiter will be more than happy to help you out.

3. You don’t have to finish you’re plate:

We all have it in our heads that we need to finish our plate at a restaurant because if not we’re wasting money, being rude, wasting food, etc. But, all of those assumptions are absolutely ridiculous!

You’re not wasting money because you can wrap it up and eat it for lunch the next day. Being rude? I assure you that your waiter will not get offended if you leave a little on your plate. And you’re actually saving food in the end because you can make a meal or two out of your leftovers for you or your family the next day. Leftover veggies taste great in omelets and any kind of meat would be the perfect salad topping!

So what it all comes down to is that when you are full, stop. Don’t take one more bite. Don’t wait two minutes and continue. Just simply put your fork down and stop. You’ll feel much better the rest of the night and you won’t have to reach for those Tums later on either.

4. Be careful with your choice of drinks:

Be extra careful when ordering drinks at restaurants. Beers, cocktails and mixed drinks such as margaritas can pack on calories quickly, and also lower your inhibitions, making you more inclined to eat more.

Stick with water, or go for a light beer, wine spritzer or your favorite drink on the rocks to keep your calories in check. If you choose to drink alcohol, flush each drink down with a glass of water.

5. Go Grilled:

When choosing your meal off the menu, try to stick with grilled, blackened or baked items, because they tend to be cooked drier, with less fat and oil. Sauteed items are usually smothered in creamy, fattening sauces or butter, and fried foods are packed with breadcrumbs and extra oil.

That being said, also beware of anything served with a creamy sauce like Alfredo, which can pack on hundreds of calories in the sauce alone. Check to sea if they can substitute a healthier sauce for you, like a tomato-based one. Or just ask for it dry, and add your own olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon to taste.

As you can see, eating healthy while eating out isn’t so painful after all. It just takes a little bit of tweaking.
So next time you get a call to go out to lunch with the girls or for ‘guy’s night’ at the bistro, go for it without hesitation!

Walk into the restaurant confident that you can make healthy choices and still enjoy a scrumptious meal. Just take into consideration the basic guidelines above and you can’t really go wrong.

And hey, if you slip up a tad, it’s OK. There’s another day. After all, going out to eat shouldn’t be scary. It’s about being there, eating well and taking in the wonderful experience with your friends or family.