Dining out doesn’t have to mean ruining your diet — as long as you’re armed with these tips. Readers of our latest Chew on This column volunteer tactics for eating out without overdoing it.
"My husband and I share! How easy is that?" writes Carine of Laguna Hills, Calif. — half the calories, and it's cheaper, too, she points out.
Some readers keep their entrees to themselves, but they order their meals with a to-go box on the side. "Ask for a doggie bag when you receive your dinner, and immediately put half the portion away," writes Jin of Chicago. "You won't have the time to sit and pick at your meal, adding extra junk to your trunk."
Want more tips on dining out without pigging out? Keep reading.
I think people in general (myself included) need to take responsibility for their eating habits, and not expect restaurants to do the work for us. Also, people go out to eat to have something special, something they probably wouldn't make at home ... if places started serving only skinless chicken and bean sprouts I for one would be very unhappy.
— Jody, Austin, Texas
Meals in restaurants are completely out of reasonable portions because Americans have been trained to accept quantity in place of quality.
— Vic, Seattle
I have found that there is a certain expectation to eat what is served to you. I have a small appetite, as I have grown used to eating four or five small meals throughout the day. I rarely am able to even come close to finishing the meals I order when dining out. I often get comments from servers like, "Not very hungry tonight are we?" or "Was something wrong with your meal?” While portions have increased in size, so has the expectation to finish them. I eat until I’m comfortably full. People need to realize that it is perfectly acceptable to not finish everything on the plate. Just because it's in front of you doesn't mean you have to finish it.
— Taylor, San Francisco
Since I prefer to dine at non-chain restaurants, I've found that the chefs are more willing to prepare items differently … making it easier for portion and preparation control.
I order my meal on a salad — in other words I will get a smaller portion of the meat on a bed of lettuce but I also have to be careful about dressings and other salad additions. I find the best bet is to stick to a Caesar salad, ask for no dressing and sub oil and vinegar or another low cal dressing on the menu. Usually when I fill up on the veggies, the portioned and well prepared steak or chicken is plenty to make me feel satisfied.
— Jennifer, Fort Hood, Texas
I haven't gained a single pound in years because I know when I'm full and understand that a couple of fries won't kill you but the whole basket will. It's all about realizing that you will be eating the rest of your life and that not every meal is your last.
Ask for a doggie bag when you receive your dinner, and immediately put half the portion away. You won't have the time to sit and pick at your meal, adding extra junk to your trunk. Another tip is to pass on the bread or chip basket. Ask them not to even bring it out, most people fill up on bread (which is energy-dense) and don't have much room left for their entree. My last suggestion is to order off the kid's menu, some restaurants will let you. Same tasty meal, smaller portion sizes (and you spent less money)!
— Jin, Chicago
I am a chef from Iowa, I am not overweight, because I watch how much I eat. In my restaurant, cutting back my portion sizes would be professional suicide! When going out to eat, most people in this area are looking for BIG food. My food is big in taste, of course, so you would think that big portions would not be necessary. I have tried cutting back the portion sizes to the amount which I eat, but my customers got upset, so I changed them back. If people want to get the right nutrition, they must be educated so, because the chefs of the world are just trying to make a living.
I think that restaurants should offer half-size options for half the price. It's not right to have to pay the regular price for an over-sized meal, and only eat half of it. Many restaurant meals are not good reheated and if you have after-dinner plans, it may not be possible to refrigerate your leftovers to keep them safe. I should have the option of ordering a reasonably sized dinner for a reasonable price, but in most cases, I find that I don't have that option.
— Stephanie, Columbia, Mo.
You know, I thought I was weird because I never can clean my plate at a restaurant. My friends eat every last thing and I always wind up taking home enough for lunch the next day. … Which may be why I am 20 pounds lighter than most of my friends.
— Karen, Washington, D.C.
More often than not, most of us eat with our eyes, especially when we are hungry. What I find to be a good thing for me is that I order a dinner salad with a low-cal dressing on the side, and split the order with my friend. If it happens to come with starch, we substitute it with any possible veggies available. I also find that drinking water and or apple juice slows down the propensity to overeat when the food comes.
— Jennifer, Concord, Calif.
When I eat out, the first thing I do is cut everything on the plate in half. I eat one half at the restaurant, and the other half goes home with me in a doggie bag. Sometimes, though, portions are so huge I only eat one-third of what I'm served. I was once served a meal at a restaurant that provided two more meals at home, and what was left after that went to the dog!
— Linda, Green Bay, Wisc.
One way I avoid overeating when dining out (in particular, dinner) is by having a small meal about an hour to an hour and a half before going out. By a small mean I mean a yogurt with a little granola or a low-cal protein bar. This way, I'm not totally famished at the restaurant.
— Jessica, Philadelphia