A night out to dinner or an afternoon brunch can send your calorie intake off the charts and hold you back from achieving your weight loss goals — unless you know the tricks to getting a satisfying meal that will keep you slim. Though restaurant foods are often supersized and loaded with calorie-rich sides and sauces, those who know where to draw the line come out having their cake and eating it, too. We’ll let you in on their secret: it’s not always about what you eat, but how you order it.
Steal their simple, slimming requests to keep your dinner date and ditch the diet guilt:
Add More Veggies
Have the pasta, but don’t forget to ask for the side of steamed broccoli, too. If your dish already comes with veggies along with a starch or other side item, ask for double veggies instead. Your meals may be filling enough on their own, but when you fill them out with vegetables, you’re more likely to eat less of the fattening foods. It may be hard, but try to eat the veggies first — or at least go every other bite with your main meal to be sure your food intake is more nutritionally balanced. Eat slowly, listen to your body and stop eating just before you feel full.
Hold the Sauce
Salads and sandwiches can be among the best options when you’re trying to “be good,” but calorie-dense dressings and spreads can quickly throw your efforts out the window. To avoid sabotaging your healthy choices, order salad dressing on the side and sandwiches sans sauce. If forgoing the spread means ruining the whole flavor of the ‘wich, ask for half the amount they normally use. You can use the same simple trick for meat dishes; ask your server if you can have half the sauce or get it on the side.
Ditch the Caesar
Before you request dressing on the side, make sure to choose vinaigrette over creamy options — you’ll practically cut the calories in half. On average, creamy Caesar dressing has a whopping 170 calories per two tablespoon serving while balsamic vinaigrette boasts a modest 90 calories for the same amount. Save yourself even more damage and resist pouring the whole cup of dressing over your salad. Instead, dip your fork in the dressing and spread it across your healthy salad that way.
Zone in on Protein
Pick the protein if you want to avoid packing on the pounds. Brunch can be particularly tricky with carb-heavy, high-sugar options like pancakes and French toast, but the beauty of breakfast and brunch is that there’s always a solid selection of egg dishes. Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition, recommends sticking to a protein-rich dish like eggs for these morning meals. If breakfast foods aren’t your thing, or if you’re dining later in the day, follow her simple formula for a healthy meal: make your plate half veggies and half lean protein. Follow this rule and you’ll skirt nutritionally void dishes, feel fuller for longer and more fat overall because your body has to work harder to breakdown protein than simple carbs or fat.
Happy hour becomes not so happy the moment you realize you consumed a day’s worth of calories in a couple cocktails. Mixed drinks can weigh in at more than 200 or 300 calories per glass, while one shot of hard alcohol like whiskey or vodka will cost you around 100 calories. Most experts would advise you to avoid alcohol on any diet regimen, but we’re a little more pragmatic: When it comes to picking a poison, we advise keeping it simple. Smith agrees, recommending you make low-calorie cocktails out of an order of hard liquor on the rocks with a splash of soda and some lemon or lime.
You know that no-willpower slim-down trick you’ve been praying for? This is it: split your meal with someone. You don’t have to hit notoriously generous joints like The Cheesecake Factory to get an out-of-control portion these days, but most restaurants will split everything from an entree to dessert — even bringing out the pre-divvied portions on separate dishes. You’re free to attack your plate with abandon without worrying that your self control will fail you when you’ve finished half of your entree. If you and your dinner companion want drastically different meals, ask the kitchen to box up half your meal before they even bring it out. Most places are happy to oblige, and you’re less likely to keep eating when you have to unpack the other half of the portion.
Add Your Own Sugar
While iced tea definitely stands out as the healthier choice when pitted against soda or alcoholic drinks, sweetened teas (and coffees!) can contain 20 to 30 grams of sugar per 12 ounces — and that leads you straight back to the problems plaguing soda and cocktail consumption: heightened sweet cravings and a widening waist. Order your iced tea unsweetened and ask for a few lemon wedges to boost the flavor. If it’s still too bitter for your liking, slowly add your own raw sugar. One or two packets should do the trick, and will cost you about 10 grams of the sweet stuff, a fraction of the sugar load in the pre-sweetened version.