In my house, we have a weekly date night that usually includes a dinner out to whichever establishment for which we happen to have a coupon. I completely look forward to going because I don't have to cook or clean, which is just fabulous once in a while.

It turns out, however that the average household eats out three times per week. If we're eating out that much, it's smart to figure out a healthy way to enjoy a meal on the town.

USA Today reported in October 2006 that restaurant meals contain 60 percent more calories than meals prepared at home. Even seemingly healthy options such as salads can be diet busters when you add nuts, bacon, eggs, avocado, and creamy dressings. Restaurants want the food to taste good and seem like a great bargain so you'll keep coming back. As a result, the food contains high amounts of fat, salt, and added sugars, within gargantuan portions.

Sometimes finding healthy eating options can be a little tricky when we go out to dinner with restaurants offering such a large variety of menu items. How does one choose? Some of these healthy tips came from They have a lot of healthy, helpful ideas.

Let's begin with salad. I like to eat a salad when I'm eating out, but I don't like a lot of salad dressing. I've found that most restaurants overload. Consider asking for dressing as a side. You can dress the salad yourself without going overboard, or dip your fork in the dressing and get a bite. Salads with fiber will help fill you up too. Try salads with seeds, lentils, beans, grapes, or raspberries.

Most restaurants offer "healthier fare" menu items; there's usually a key at the bottom of the menu telling you which items are lower in fat and calories. When perusing these choices on the menu, consider the following suggestions:

  • Choose lean proteins such as chicken, turkey, lean sirloin, and fish.

  • Choose food that is grilled, baked, broiled, steamed, roasted, or boiled. All of these options are much healthier than fried.

  • Avoid entrees with sausage, cream sauces, and fatty cuts of meat such as prime rib or brisket.

  • Meats such as tenderloin, flank steak, and sirloin are leaner choices.

  • Words such as au gratin, braised, confit, and scalloped most likely mean the dish has added fat in the form of cheese and butter.

  • Opt for baked potatoes or steamed vegetables over French fries, onion rings or creamed spinach.

In addition, here are a couple of healthier menu choice options available at a variety of restaurants:

  • At Italian restaurants, choose pasta with marinara sauce, minestrone soup, and garden salads.

  • For Mexican dining, chicken, shrimp, or vegetable fajitas with corn tortillas and no cheese or sour cream can be a healthy choice.

  • At Chinese restaurants, ask for brown rice and stir-fried chicken with vegetables. Order the sauce on the side and use just a few teaspoons.

  • For a diner-style restaurant, try grilled chicken breast or fish with a baked potato topped with fresh herbs, salt and pepper with a cup of vegetable soup.

If you happen to get a very large meal, one great trick is to ask for a to-go box when the main course is served, then tuck away half for lunch tomorrow. I prefer to eat until I'm satisfied and save the rest to take home. One more easy meal later, right?

Just in case you're tempted to splurge, which is just fine on occasion, I thought I'd share a chart I saw at the gym recently:

Working off fast food

  • Small Fries: 30 minutes cardio and 20 minutes weight lifting

  • Small Nacho Plate: 30 minutes kick boxing

  • Ice Cream Sundae: 30 minutes cardio and 30 minutes weight lifting

  • Cheeseburger: 30 minutes spin class

  • Deep Dish Pizza slice: 4.5 mile run

  • Buffalo Wings: 40 minute bike ride

I hope these tips for eating healthy while dining out will help you in making healthier food choices the next time you're at a restaurant.

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