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Pre-Restaurant Preparations
Plan to Eat Healthy BEFORE You Go Out

Hamburger and Fries - Loaded with calories...

When I was young, going out to eat was a special occasion. I remember getting dressed up and being excited because it was a big deal, a chance to indulge!

Fast-forward 30 years. In 2007 eating out has become a way of life. Americans consume around one third of their calories away from home in restaurants and other food-service establishments. Going out to eat isn't for special occasions anymore, for many people it's a daily occurrence.

That can be a problem.

When you buy food at the supermarket, the nutritional content is on the package. You don't have to buy the healthier foods, but if you want to, the information is there. No such luck in most restaurants.

Many restaurants (local and chains) have 1,500 calorie appetizers, 2,000 calorie entrees and 1,200 calorie desserts. For some people that's as many calories as they should eat in three days, not one meal! And the serving sizes keep growing bigger.

Instead of competing to make things healthier, restaurants are trying to see who can make the most extreme meals. A lean entree doesn't make the news, but if you serve a 10 pound hamburger, that gets featured on CNN. But there's another reason too. Laziness.

It's actually quite difficult to make a meal that's healthy AND tastes good. I know, because I work with talented chefs every week to put healthier and flavorful meals on my website. It's easy to add sugars, salt and fat to elevate an uninspired dish, and it seems far too many chefs have chosen the easy way. It is much more difficult to work with spices and creatively prepare food that people want to keep coming back for. So what the restaurants won't do for you, you've got to do for yourself.

If you're serious about eating better, start with where you go out to dinner. Pick up the phone book and see if it has a section with menus in it (many do). Look and see if any of the menus offer low-cal or healthy options. If they do, you've got a winner.

If you can't find the information in a phone book or online, give the restaurant a call before you make a reservation. Explain that one of the people who will be joining you is on a special diet, and can they prepare the food without butter or oils? If they can, make a reservation. If they don't, ask them to recommend a place that would or look for someplace else.

Watch what you eat before you head out. Have a lighter breakfast and lunch, so you can eat more calories for dinner. Then just before you leave, eat a healthy snack so you don't go into the restaurant hungry and overindulge. A handful of dry roasted, unsalted nuts or a piece of fruit are both good options.

If you're out and get hungry, read the menu posted outside to see what they have before you go in. If you go someplace regularly, see if they'll accommodate you with a special request.

Don't be afraid to vote with your feet. Recently I was at a local restaurant with a group of friends that was visiting. We sat down and read the menu, but couldn't find anything that seemed even remotely low fat. So I asked the chef if he had any healthy options. He said, "No, people don't come here to eat healthy." My friends and I closed our menu's, stood up and walked out. He doesn't have to cater to me, but I also don't have to spend my money there.

Remember that your server is just that, there to serve you. Don't be intimidated or worry that you're holding them up with your questions. You're paying the server get the proper information to the kitchen so you can have a healthier dining experience. But the courtesy goes both ways. If a server delivers for you, make sure to tip accordingly. 20 to 30 percent is fair if they handle all your special requests.

Now Listen Up!Why is it that so many servers try and take my order without writing it down?

I eat out quite a bit and over two months decided to write down how many servers that took my order by memory got it right. There were 19 attempts at 11 different restaurants. Only two got it right, and they were both places I eat at regularly.

Five times food came out covered in sauces that I requested on the side and twice things were prepared differently than I ordered.

If you're a server and you're reading this, do your customers a favor. Get a pad and write it down! If you're ordering something special, ask your server to write it down.

UPDATE: Make Bigger Tips!

I like it when a waitperson repeats my order back to me, because then I know it's correct. I hate it when my carefully chosen substitutions are ignored. Now a book called Invisible Influence claims it can also increase the tip by 70%.

If you're a waitperson, don't try to impress people by relying on your memory. Write down their order, repeat it back and get it right.

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Updated 6/21/2016

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  • Be WARNED!

    Even chain restaurants that have "healthy options" on their menu may not be giving you what you ordered. At an IHOP (International House of Pancakes) on Collins Road in Miami some friends and I went for a healthier breakfast.

    We ordered the "Garden Scramble" that according to the menu is made with "egg substitute". Unfortunately when the meal arrived it had been made with whole eggs, quadrupling the fat and giving us 2 days of cholesterol on each plate.

    To prevent that from happening, order egg whites instead of egg substitute, Egg Beaters, or Better 'N Eggs. When egg whites are used, you can simply look at the plate. If it's yellow, then they made it wrong. If it's white, they made it correctly.

    (This incident happened 3/15/2007.)