Just because you are watching what you eat doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite restaurants and foods. Here are four basic guidelines that will put you in charge of your dining out experience.
1. Ask and you shall receive. The wait staff should know how a dish is made, what the ingredients are, even how big the portion size is. So ask, already. Then have it your way. If the burrito looks good except for the fact that it is smothered in sour cream, ask the chef to hold the cream. If you would like the grilled chicken breast without the skin, say so. If the vegetable side dishes are usually prepared with gobs of butter, request yours lightly sautéed in olive oil or steamed. Pizza tonight? The pizza chef should be more than willing to make yours with half the normal amount of cheese, or none, and an extra topping of vegetables.
2. Sign up for one course at a time. One of the pleasures of dining out is taking your time. Unfortunately, at too many restaurants, waiters snatch up one course and rush in with the next before you have had time to put your fork down. There is a reason. Most restaurants want to turn tables around as quickly as they can, to squeeze in as many seatings in an evening as possible. That is their business. Yours is to sit back, relax and take the time you need to eat only as much as you want, and no more. If you are worried about being rushed, order just one course at a time, not the whole meal. Start with an appetizer. Once you are done, look back at the menu to consider what you will have next. A useful rule of thumb is to allot at least 20 minutes per course. This is the amount of time your body needs to send satiety signals. Do you feel full? No reason to feel obligated to keep ordering.
3. Draw the line. Ask whether the kitchen can prepare half portions. Many restaurants are more than willing to do so. Some even offer half portions on the menu. If the dish you order turns out to be big enough to feed a small army, ask the waiter right then and there to divide the portions and set half aside for you to take home. Do not wait until you have started to nibble. Do not depend on your willpower to eat only half of what is in front of you. This is supposed to be dinner you are enjoying, not a test of your determination. If you know in advance that the entrees at a particular restaurant are outsized, ask in advance to be served only half and bring the rest at the end of the meal in a take-out container.
4. Rule the table. When you are dining out, you are in charge. Not only of what you eat but also of what is on the table. Many restaurants start you off with a basket of dinner rolls. If you are hungry when it hits the table, you will automatically gobble up mediocre white-flour bread smeared with butter and loaded with calories without even giving it a second thought. Why waste the calories? Tell the waiter, "No bread, thanks." If you are famished when you sit down, order something more sensible to take the edge off your hunger before you do anything else. A side salad or a vegetable side dish, for instance, or a glass of spicy tomato juice. At the same time, ask for a glass of water. Then you will not have to keep the server busy filling your glass. Remember to drink plenty of water with your meal.