With oversized portions and heavy sauces or dressings, restaurant food packs way more of a caloric punch than food made at home.  It can be hard to make a healthy choice, or even discern what the healthiest choice is!  Here are some guidelines for making menu choices that won’t bust your calorie budget:

Scope out the vegetables.  A dish that is based around vegetables rather than meat or cheese is likely to be lower in calories and saturated fat.  As an example a Veggie Taco with refried beans from Taco Del Mar has 180 calories, while their Ground Beef Quesadilla has 780.

Ask for dressing and sauce on the side.  Most of us had heard this one before, but I thought I’d just let you know that it’s still relevant!  Salad dressings and other sauces can be very high in fat, calories, or even sugar.  Asking for these items on the side and then using a moderate amount can make a big difference in your total calorie intake.

If you are eating a salad, choose a vinegar-based dressing over a creamy one.  A 2-oz serving of Ranch Dressing from Chili’s has a whopping 25 grams of fat, 4 of which are saturated fat.

Make your own reasonable portion size.  Serving sizes at restaurants are often way larger than a plate you would make for yourself at home.  Food scientist Brian Wansink, author of the book Mindless Eating, has shown through various studies that we will usually eat whatever portion is placed in front of us, regardless of the size!

Try asking for a take-home box as soon as you order your meal.  When you get your food, immediately take half of it off your plate and put it in your box.  Out of sight, out of mind!  And you’ve got leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Make restaurant food an occasional treat, and enjoy it without guilt!  It’s impossible to eat a healthy whole foods diet with frequent restaurant dining.  Go out to eat on special occasions or celebrations, and let yourself fully experience your food.  There’s no reason to feel guilty when you’re making mindful decisions!

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