RISMEDIA, September 23, 2010—Whether you’re having dinner at a five-star restaurant, lunch at your local diner, or a bite at a fast-food chain, these tips can help you dine out without overeating or overspending.
Look it up. Some chains make their nutrition information available on their websites or on menus in states or cities that require it. At those that don’t, ask your server. You can also look up healthier dishes at nearly 60,000 restaurants on the website HealthyDiningFinder.com. (The recommendations don’t take sodium into account, so be sure to check it yourself before choosing).
Find healthier-choice sections on menus. Now available at many restaurants, they tend to have dishes with fewer calories, less saturated fat, and lower (though not necessarily low) sodium.
Decode the lingo. For example, “crispy,” “crunchy,” and “fritto” generally mean fried; “creamy” signals butter, cheese, cream, or all three. Among preparation methods, steamed is healthiest; poached, blackened, broiled, baked, and grilled are also good. With any dish, request that it be prepared with minimal or no oil, and order sauce on the side.
With salads, get dressing on the side. Then lightly dip your fork into it before each bite.
Bring your own bottle. If you like drinking wine with dinner, look for “BYOB” nights at restaurants and pay only a corking fee.
Try a prix fixe menu. They offer several courses at a set price, often in the early dinner hours or on off-peak days. Or look for “restaurant week” promotions in your city, which offer multicourse menus at reduced prices.
Let ’em know your age. Many family restaurants have reduced-price menus for older customers, usually defined as 55 and up. Most have lower-priced menus for kids, too, and some have “kids eat free” days.
Sign up for e-mail alerts. If you can tolerate the extra load on your inbox, you’ll be flooded with coupons for free dishes or discounts on whole meals. Filling out a restaurant’s online survey can also yield freebies, as can joining birthday clubs when available.
Split it. Take advantage of super-sized portions at chain restaurants by sharing them with a dining companion or eating half and boxing the rest for lunch or dinner the next day. Or ask if there’s a half-sized or smaller-portion option for entrées.
Skip appetizers, coffee and dessert. They drive up not just the bill, but the tip, too. For something sweet after a meal, stock healthful desserts at home, like fresh fruit salad, Popsicles, or low-fat frozen yogurt.
Order water to drink. It’s free, has no calories or sugar, and you get unlimited refills.
Order two appetizers instead of a main course. You’ll get more variety, smaller portions, and you may pay less than you would for an entrée.
For more information, visit www.consumerreports.org.