Healthy Lifestyle

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Dining out can still be healthy

Men and women with an eye on shedding a few extra pounds might feel as though dining out is a luxury their waistlines simply cannot afford. But many restaurants recognize their customers' growing desire for healthier fare. People can expect to find a host of nutritional items on the menu at their favorite local restaurant, making dining out both a viable and healthy option for those who want to put money back into their community while enjoying a night out on the town.

Of course, diners who want to ensure their next night out is healthy can take a number of steps before hitting the town with friends, family or that special someone.

* Peruse the menu ahead of time. Many restaurants now post their menus to their Web sites, where prospective diners can get a feel for the restaurant while examining the menu for foods they can feel good about eating. Look for low-calorie meals and choose a few candidates that you might want to eat when you arrive at the restaurant. Some restaurants may count the calories for you on the menu or explain where and why they buy their ingredients in an attempt to ensure their customers' meals will be both delicious and healthy.

* Consider ordering off the menu. Ordering off the menu was a practice once reserved for bigwigs or restaurant regulars. But nowadays many restaurants recognize that some customers might be on restricted diets for medical reasons and are willing to work with their customers who still want to enjoy a meal out without putting their health in jeopardy. Ordering off the menu does not necessarily mean ordering a dish that isn't on the menu. Ordering off the menu can refer to asking that ingredients like salt not be used to prepare your meal or asking that a dish is baked or grilled instead of fried. Many restaurants are amenable to such requests, but it's up to the customer to ask.

* Ask for smaller portions. Smaller portions can help men and women maintain a healthy weight, and some restaurants even allow customers to buy half-portions for less money. If that option is available, take advantage of it. If not, skip the appetizer and dessert courses, and don't be afraid to leave some food on your plate at the end of the meal. You can always have your meal wrapped.

* Share your meal. Out on a date with your special someone? Then order one entree and let your server know you plan to share the meal. You might have to pay a little extra to share the meal, but you won't be eating as much and the added cost of sharing will still be less than purchasing two entrees.

* Don't forget to eat before you dine out. If you miss meals throughout the day before dining out at night, you're far more likely to overindulge once you get to the restaurant. Be sure to eat a healthy breakfast and lunch and a healthy snack of fruits or vegetables before going out to dinner at night. If so, you won't be as hungry when you arrive at the restaurant and you won't overeat to combat that hunger.