Save Calories and Money When Dining Out

Fancy fish meal on plate in restaurant
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Americans are dining out more than ever before. It's not unusual to go to a restaurant for meals several times a week. Big portions, hidden fat, high calorie counts, and lots of unhealthy choices can really put us at a disadvantage if we are trying to watch our weight. Diabetes management is all about maintaining a healthy weight. How can we do that and still dine out?

The other day, I tried a different tactic while ordering lunch in a well-known chain restaurant. I was determined to get out of there having consumed under 400 calories. I opened the menu and could see that I was going to have to work at this. Crispy fried chicken and fries, ½-pound hamburgers with fries, big combo platters and mega - sandwiches served with fries were my choices. Or were they?

It was plain to see that I wouldn't be ordering any of those things if I wanted to keep the calorie count down. They were loaded with calories and fat - and they were too big for lunch, anyway.

I looked at the soup selections. There was a cream soup, French onion soup, and a chicken noodle soup. I know that cream soups pack a calorie whallop, and the French onion comes smothered in mozzarella. So the logical choice was a bowl of chicken noodle soup. Not a lot of charisma maybe, but a good solid contender for a low-fat, low-calorie food. Not bad.

Next, I browsed the side dishes. Even though french fries came with everything on the menu, they were also listed in the sides. What, we need more fries? I picked a garden salad to go with my soup. Now, the thing to watch out for with salads is the dressing. Many dressings can push the calories so far up that you might as well have had the ½-pound burger and fries instead.

Today, I would not be doing salad dressing. Today, I was going naked (that is, my greens were). Alright, not all the way naked. I've learned that a fresh salad sprinkled with lemon juice and a little pepper is a nice fresh way to eat greens. Most restaurants will oblige you if you ask for lemon wedges on the side instead of dressing. If that's not an option, asking for plain vinegar also works.

This particular time, I had a light sprinkling of red wine vinegar on the salad with a couple of dashes of pepper. It was actually a great salad with romaine, cucumbers, red onions, grape tomatoes, grated cheddar, and some homemade rye croutons. Who knew that a simple side salad could be so good? It was a nice complement to the soup.

Rounding out my meal, I had coffee with my one indulgence - half and half. (I couldn't be completely spartan about the whole thing.)

I didn't get dessert, but I've changed my philosophy about ordering an after dinner treat. It used to be that going to a restaurant was a special occasion, and dessert was part of the celebration. Now that we use restaurants as a substitute for Mom's home cooking, we don't need to celebrate at every meal. I save dessert for holidays or birthdays. Keeping desserts for festive events helps keep them special.

After tallying up my meal, not only did it come in at 333 calories and 16.2 grams of fat, but my check was a mere $8.50 - not bad on either front. I got out of a restaurant, full and satisfied, for under 400 calories, and I had some extra money to spare.

Arm Yourself With Calorie Knowledge

Feel lost on what's really waistline friendly? Even some innocent-looking selections can be deceiving, packing more calories and fat than you can imagine. If you have a cell phone that can send text messages or access the web, try a calorie counter. This allows you to look up nutritional information for thousands of foods and menu items on the go.

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