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Top 5 Tips for Dining Out the Healthy Way

If you're like me, you have the best intentions when it comes to cooking meals for yourself and your family, but it sees that time gets away from you and you end up deciding to dine out instead. Eating out can be a time saver but it can also be a challenge to make healthy choices when you're not cooking things yourself.

The good news is, with a little planning you can make educated choices before you even leave your house! Here are my top 5 tips for dining out.

1. Plan ahead. This applies to both where you're eating and what you're ordering. Have a list of go-to restaurants where you know the menu well so you do not have to spend a ton of time deciding what to choose. Have your family create a list of several places everyone likes and use that as a rotating list of places to go in a pinch. You can even add a new place you want to try once in a while. Many restaurants have their menus posted online so you can determine if it's the right choice for you before you head out.

2. Read the menu carefully. Either online or in the restaurant, take your time while reviewing menu options. Be selective with what you're ordering and consider balancing your meal – if you choose a heavier entrée, select a side of steamed vegetables. If you know you're having dessert, choose grilled or broiled chicken or fish with a salad for your entrée and appetizer. If you're really craving something, order it and savor it while you relish not having to do the dishes after dinner.

3. Do not hesitate to make special requests. Restaurants are often very flexible with their menus, even with methods of preparation. Ask if that sandwich you're interested in can be made with grilled instead of fried chicken. Skip the bacon or mayonnaise on the sandwich and choose a baked potato or salad as a side. Asking sauces and dressings be served on the side is an easy way to make sure the food is seasoned to your particular taste.

4. Pay attention to your alcohol consumption. Alcohol tends to lower inhibitions and you may not be as in tune to your fullness cues. If you do choose to drink, alcohol guidelines recommend one drink per day for women and two for men.

5. Volumize your meals. Increase the nutritional profile of your meal by adding volume. Ask for extra vegetables in your primavera, choose vegetarian fajitas, or pile your burger with extra tomatoes, lettuce, and other vegetables. This not only makes your meal more nutrient-dense, but it also helps you feel satisfied and stay satisfied for longer.

If you're still finding it difficult to fit a relaxed meal into your busy schedule, tuck portable foods into your purse or kids' lunchboxes for an easy way keep everyone from becoming ravenous. Try nut butter and an apple, trail mix, and single serve packages of whole grain cereal or crackers paired with a cheese stick.

The good news is, if you find yourself pressed for time for meals once in a while, there are a few ways around it. With a little pre-planning, when the time crunch hits, you'll already have steps in place to find an easy way to dine out. Plus, you have the added bonus of not having to clean up after, giving you even more time to spend as a family.