iStock_000011394253XSmallEating out does not have to derail your weight loss efforts or nutrition plan!  Being prepared and having a strategic plan will allow you to eat out at almost any restaurant and still stay on track.

TIP 1 – Plan ahead: Most restaurants have their menus online and some even have the nutritional info posted (chains mostly). Go online, search for the nutrition information of the restaurant you want to go to, and plan out your choices. Popular restaurants that have all their nutrition facts posted online include Starbucks, Panera Bread, Au Bon Pain, Cosi, Hale and Hearty, Pizza Hut, Chipotle, The Keg, Milestones, Montana’s, Boston Pizza and more.

http://caloriecount.about.com/restaurants-mc1 – This website also has a pretty broad listing of restaurants and their menu item nutrition facts.

If you want the low-down on nutrition information for menu items, The Economist ran a great commentary on the issue as it pertains to New York when in first hit the fan in 2011:  http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2011/07/menu-labelling

Once you arrive:

TIP 2- Hydrate First!  Make sure you have a full glass of water (or two) before you dive in (yes even the bread basket!).  Another strategy is to order a warm drink first thing such as hot water with some fresh lemon slices. You’ll be surprised how this warm calming drink can fill you up and soothe the craving/hunger beast. Herbal tea is also a great option while coffee tends to throw off blood sugar levels and may lead to cravings and bad decisions later on.

TIP 3 – Be an assertive orderer: Don’t be afraid to modify the menu. Trust me, in this age of “nutritionism”, waiters are used to it. Ask questions and know the terminology. Grilled, steamed, broiled, boiled and baked are fine but beware of terms such as creamy, smothered, lightly breaded, deep fried.   Ask for sauces on the side and leave out the fries/rice/pasta/potatoes that usually come with the main and ask for extra veggies instead (most restaurants are happy to do this).

TIP 4 – Start with soup or salad: both can be filling and satisfying. Order the dressing on the side and dip your fork lightly in the dressing before every forkful. Stay with non-creamy soups. Ask the server if dairy is added that will let you know if they add cream or cheese or even butter (you can even tell your server that you are lactose intolerant to make sure they don’t add cream, butter or cheese)

TIP 5 – Appetizers as the main course: Try ordering from the appetizer menu if you don’t find anything you want on the main menu such as grilled calamari, caprese salad, or shrimp cocktail. Saves calories with smaller portions and is less expensive.

TIP 6 – Liquor Control: Alcohol can stimulate hunger so never drink on an empty stomach (really throws off blood sugar) and try to follow the 1:1 rule; follow a glass of wine with a full glass of water. Even try to cut the wine with ½ club soda or Perrier in a wine Spritzer or mix vodka with soda water.

TIP 7 – Portion Control/Leftovers for the next day: Most restaurants provide huge portions-take a look at the size of the plate or bowl! Eyeball your serving size (palm of your hand) and divide your portion accordingly. Make a mental note to have the rest packed-up for home, or, better yet, ask the waiter for a to-go container and box it up right away. Bonus: Less for you to cook the next day.

The smart phone world is still trying to stay on top of restaurant nutrition. There are a few good apps out there, but they need constant updating. Here are a few free ones that are worth trying, just to get a sense of what your waistline is up against: