The key is to make wise choices and to communicate with your waiter.
The next time you go out to eat, don't wait until the end of the meal to ask for a doggie bag. Ask the waiter to bring it with your meal so you can put part of it away before you even start eating. Doing this can help prevent you from eating too much, said Melissa Kalb, a registered dietician with the Faculty and Staff Wellness Program at Ohio State University.
"That way you can close the lid and set it aside and forget about it. You can still clean your plate, but you'll only be eating half of what you're served," she said. This was one of several tips that Kalb and other dieticians had for how you can eat healthy (or at least healthier) while dining out.
"It can be a challenge eating healthy at a restaurant, but it can be done. The key is to communicate with the waitress; know exactly how the food is being prepared and if you can find a healthier choice," said Amber Wilson, a registered dietician with Mid-Ohio Nutrition Therapy.
For example, if the menu item is a fried chicken wrap, ask if you can have grilled, instead of fried, chicken, Wilson said. When it comes to meat, ask for it to be baked, broiled or grilled instead of fried, Kalb said.
You can cut down on the size of your meal, which tends to be very large at restaurants, by asking for the lunch size portion or by sharing it with someone, Kalb said. You also can opt for an appetizer instead of an entrée.
Isn't salad a wise choice?
While soups and salads sound like healthy choices, sometimes they are filled with fat and calories. Watch out for cream-based soups and sauces, Kalb said. Salads can be deceiving. They can have a lot of fat, especially if they have meat, eggs and a full fat salad dressing," she said. "It's best to ask for a light or no fat salad dressing and on the side because sometimes the salads are dripping with dressing."
You also should ask for butter, margarine and sour cream on the side. When it comes to potatoes, go with baked and not mashed, which often contain heavy cream and butter. Even marinara sauce can contain a lot of oil.
When it comes to side dishes, skip the fries, onion rings and other fatty foods and ask for healthy vegetables such as broccoli.
"Skip the fried sides and go for the steamed ones. Ask for double steamed vegetables instead of two side dishes," Wilson said. She also cautioned not to "drink your calories" by ordering calorie-filled beverages. Opt instead for iced tea, diet sodas or water.
If you know where you're going to eat, look up the restaurant on the Web to see if it has nutrition facts listed for its menu. Looking up the nutritional information beforehand can help you make a healthier choice before you even step into the restaurant. Plus, it might open your eyes to the amount of fat and calories in some of your favorite dishes.
"The key is to make wise choices and to communicate with your waiter. Make sure you get across that you want your dish cooked differently, that you want it to be healthier," Wilson said.