We are a nation that loves to let others do the cooking for us. Unfortunately, putting our trust in the hands of butter-happy chefs whose favorite motto is "thank God it's fry day" is a great way to slip off the diet wagon.
According to AllBusiness.com, "Americans currently spend 43% of their food dollar on food prepared away from home, compared to 36% in 1981. And that percentage is considered likely to increase in the future. For better or for worse, patronizing foodservice has become an integral part of contemporary lifestyles."
If you've been reading the news lately, you know some of your fravorite restaurants are serving up dishes that tip the scale with nearly 2,000 calories and more than a hundred grams of fat.
There's no need to stop dining out. But there is a need to eat out and eat right.
Lucky for you, I am friends with author/nutritionist Hope Warshaw. And, as such, I am privvy to the dining out tips and strategies she first revealed in Eat Out, Eat Right (Surrey Books).
"It's all about making better choices," Hope told me. "You don't have to throw your hands up and do nothing about it but pack on pounds.
"If you have the will, you can do it. You simply need to develop a healthy mindset and healthy attitude about eating."
Okay, so get ready to sink your teeth into a few of Hope's...
"These general skills and strategies can be applied to just about any restaurant eating situation - whether eating in or taking out," Hope notes.
Develop a healthy mindset and a can-do attitude
This is your critical first step. Until you master this first step, you'll have a tough time leaving a restaurant with your diet -- and belt -- intact.
Hope advises: "Think about steps you can take to develop a healthier mindset about restaurant meals. Ask yourself what changes you need to make to find a balance between continuing to enjoy restaurant dining while you order and eat healthier foods."
Select restaurants with care
It sounds obvious but always choose restaurants that make it easy for you to eat well. And by well, we mean healthy not hpg wild!
"The reality is that you can choose to eat healthfully in 95% of restaurants," Hope says. "Some menus just make it easier than others."
Think through your action plan
It's always a good idea to take impulse buying out of the equation. Do so by pre-planning what you might order before you sit down to eat.
Hope advises, "Be the first of your party to order. This strategy eliminates your time to ponder changes as you wait for your dining partners to place their orders."
Be an avid fat detector
Dodging the fat in restaurant meals can be a challenge. But don't make it worse by adding fat to your food!
Hope gives the example of the medium baked potato which rings in at 100 calories. Add a teaspoon of butter or margarine (50 calories) and two tablespoons of sour cream (50 calories) and you've doubled your calories!
Watch out for these preparation methods that usually mean drenched in fat: deep-fried, smothered, or covered with a cream-based sauce.
Menu items to steer clear of include pasta with Alfredo sauce or chimichangas, which is a fried burrito.
Hope advises, "Don't forget to feel free to ask questions about unfamiliar ingredients, preparations and menu descriptions."
Practice portion control from the get-go
Sadly, large portions are a fact of strife at U.S. restaurants. Hope says you need to outsmart the menu and cut your portion down to size.
Hope advises, "A successful strategy is to control portions from the point of ordering. This means less food will be in front of you and you'll eat less. Think of this as the out of sight, out of mind technique."
Just say NO to the menu descriptions jumbo, grande, supreme, extra large, king size, double, triple, feast and combo.
Practice menu creativity
There's no rule that says you must order an entree. Instead, why not pick from the soups, salads, appetizers and side dishes?
You'll get variety and smaller portions.
Hope advises, "Split portions with your dining partner. Go ahead and order from soup to dessert, but split everything down the middle."
Order foods as you need and want them
Remember, the customer is always right so go ahead and make special requests. A few good special requests involve the words LEAVE and OFF, as in leave off the cheese, the bacon, or the sour cream.
Other good requests are substitutions like a baked potato rather than French fries or potato chips, and mustard rather than mayo.
Hope notes, "It's important to take the attitude that there's no harm in asking and the worst your server can say is NO."
Know when to say, "I've had enough!"
Don't become a member of the clean plate club. If the portions are supersized, ask for a take-home container -- at the start of your meal!
Hope advises, "If that feels uncomfortable, put aside the portion you don't want to eat and and offer 'tastes' to your dining companions... or just push the extra food to the side of your plate."
Hope S. Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE, BC-ADM, is a nationally recognized and respected nutrition and diabetes expert with more than 25 years of expertise. For more information, go to HopeWarshaw.com.