If you’re one of the millions of Americans trying to lose weight in 2024, you might worry that your palate or social life will suffer. However, the good news is you don’t have to hold back from eating out at restaurants. Still, ordering out while dieting may pose difficulties, as restaurants typically cook with an excess amount of oil, salt, and sugar, not to mention supersized portions. That being said, it’s still possible to dine healthily and still enjoy yourself.

Nutrition professor at Boston University and author of “Nutrition & You” Joan Salge Blake told Fox News Digital that you can still eat out when you’re trying to lose a few pounds. She said to do so healthily, you have to know how to outsmart the delicious restaurant menu that you’re served. It’s not just what you eat while dining out but how often you do so, according to Colleen Kiley, a registered dietician. She said the choices you make outside the home are usually higher in calories, fat, and salt compared to eating at home.

Menus can be a minefield when trying to choose healthy meals at restaurants, let alone knowing how to find the ones that are nutrient-dense or at least superior to a double cheeseburger with bacon and a side of onion rings. It can be difficult to stick to a diet when eating out if you’re not aware of what to look for on the menu. However, the good news is that changes in what foods are being offered in restaurants today are making it easier for people to find healthy options that fit within their nutrition goals while still being able to enjoy dining out.

Plus, with some strategic planning, it’s possible to eat out without breaking the calorie bank. Here are some techniques for ordering a meal at a restaurant while you’re committed to a healthy diet.

Swap out French fries for vegetables.

Shelley Balls, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Fueling Your Lifestyle LLC, recommends choosing a side of veggies over French fries to boost nutritional intake and save calories. She said French fries are filled with sodium and solid fats, making them a once-in-a-while option, while vegetables are loaded with minerals, vitamins, dietary fiber, antioxidants and low in calories. These qualities in vegetables can help you stick to a healthy diet to see the changes you want.

Go lean with your protein.

Sorry, fish and chips and fried chicken lovers. Balls said you should choose chicken breast, fish, beans, and other lean meats that don’t have as many solid fats, which can increase your calorie intake. Protein promotes satiety and can help you feel fuller on fewer calories, which can help encourage a balanced and healthy diet. Plus, something like a bean burger can be flavor-packed and an excellent vessel to load up with other healthy add-ons like tomatoes and sliced avocados.

Reconsider your drink.

Balls said you should accept this principle when dining out, as drinks can add up calories quickly depending on what you order. Sugar-sweetened drinks like sweet teas, sodas, sports drinks, and juices have a lot of added sugars that can stop you from losing that extra weight. Alcohol is even worse because it has seven calories per gram, whereas protein and carbohydrates contain only four calories per gram, so be mindful if you choose to have a drink. She said the best option is to drink water since it has no cost, calories and will help you reach your nutrition goals. Blake said there’s a strategy you can use if you don’t want to skip the alcohol during a festive night out: skip the alcohol until you place your order. She said alcohol is one of the few substances that’s absorbed directly in your stomach and your small intestine.

For example, Blake said if your dinner reservation is at 7:00 p.m. and your last meal was at noon, your stomach will be empty, so you’ll feel the inebriating effects of alcohol immediately. The worst thing you can do is to look at the menu while sipping a glass of Pino, or any alcoholic drink for that matter. As Blake pointed out, when you’re already drinking before dinner arrives, everything on the menu will be calling your name as your willpower decreases.

Eat out for lunch instead of dinner.

A bright idea that helps you save calories without trying is eating out for lunch instead of dinner. Blake said making your restaurant meal a lunchtime treat instead of dinner can help both your wallet and waist. She said lunchtime meal options are usually smaller in portions than dinner portions and may be in line with your calorie-cutting goals. She added that because you’re less hungry and tired earlier in the day, you’ll have a better chance of sticking to your weight-loss goals and willpower at noontime meals. It would be best to always ask for sauces and dressings on the side, which gives you control over the extra calories, sugar, and salt added to your meal.

Order a vegetable soup for your first course.

Blake recommends ordering a vegetable soup for your first course, as it can replace fried, higher-calorie appetizers for fewer calories and more nutrition. She said low-calorie, high-volume foods like a veggie soup will also fill you up before it feels you out as it increases repletion, pointing to research from the research journal Appetite, which suggests that eating a vegetable soup before a meal can help you reduce calories at that meal by almost 20 percent.

Ask for vegetables with a dip.

When ordering a dip appetizer, always ask for cut-up veggies to go with it. This will increase your water content, fiber, and vitamin intake. Plus, sometimes you may like the way carrots or celery sticks taste with your guacamole or artichoke dip more than over-salty tortilla chips.

Try to visualize portion sizes.

As a rule of thumb when eating out, you should try to visualize portion sizes when eating your food. Make half of your plate vegetables, even if you have to order a side salad or additional hot vegetables. Keep the protein to the size of your hand and the starch to one fist. Take the rest of the meal home.

Ordering out while dieting can be tricky, but it’s still possible to eat healthy and enjoy yourself. Hopefully, these tips will help you outsmart the restaurant menu that you’re served so you can stick to your diet and keep losing weight.

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