"Eating Right When Eating Out"   by Stella Juarez Post

Darden Restaurants recently announced a unique concept they are test martketing that holds promise for those of us concerned with the nutritional values of the food we eat when dining out.

The Truth Would Probably Hurt

At Darden's Seasons 52, portions plated using  true portion sizes, desserts are small and waiters can obtain nutrition values from hand held PCs. There is even talk to introduce legislation forcing restaurants to list nutrition values on all menu items. Restaurant execs are reluctant to do so (is there any wonder why?) citing that people usually watch what they eat at home but go out expecting to splurge and therefore, aren't concerned with the nutrition content for every menu item.

What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

Even though we may be very concerned with the impact food has onour bodies, the reality is that most of us have social dining obligations with family, friends, and co-workers that out number our "splurge" days. While it's good to see many restaurants beginning to offer alternative menu items, there are still a few things we need to be aware of before digging in.

Without knowing what ingredients or preparation methods have been used, it's up to you to lookout for yourself. Even something as innocent as the "grilled chicken" or "petite sirloin" may have a large serving spoon of melted butter splashed on it (known as "go juice" in some restaurants) for the sake of providing a glistening peice of meat to your table.

Diet Damage Control

Diet distasters when dining out can be headed off by following a few simple strategies.

1. Read the Menu - It may be obvious to avoid ordering items with words like "creamy", "deep fried", or "super-sized" but don't allow the appearance of "safe" words like "steamed", "baked", or "grilled" to give you carte blanche. What sides will come with it? Is it smothered in cheese? Does the salad have bacon, cheese, croutons (usually dipped into oil & baked), or pepperoni in it? Will those factors outweigh the grilled benefits?

2. Ask Questions - Don't be shy or feel as though you are being annoying just because you ask questions about the menu. A good server will be able to answer your food preparation or ingredient questions or offer to find out for you before you order. If they do not respond with confident answers or seem as though they are only pretending to know, you are better off avoiding the item altogether.

3. Omit Extras or Have Them Served on The Side- Ask to have dressings, sauces, chips, and other toppings served on the side or not at all so that you have control over how much of them you consume. Once it's dripping all over the food, you will not really be able to avoid consuming the extra serving sizes you will undoubtably be served.

4. Substitute- Ask for a baked potato or salad instead of fries and a low caloriedressing or oil & vinegar instead of fatty dressings.

5. Ask for A Doggy Bag- Ask for a to go bag when your meal is served or shortly after. If you are with family and friends and everyone is talking and laughing, you may wind up eating double portions simply because the food is in front of you or you are distracted.

6. Make Up Your Own Meal- If all else fails and there is nothing on the menu you can eat, see what kinds of meals you can make up of some of their sides. A house salad or steamed vegetables with a peice of grilled chicken can be ordered at almost any restaurant.

7. Be a Good Tipper- Don't be the nightmare customer who asked for everything special and only leaves a dollar for a tip. It's hard to keep track of several tables so if your server pulls off your requests seamlessly, reward them when you tip them and thank them or their manager on the way out.

Just because you care a lot about what you are eating doesn't mean you can't go out to eat with family and friends or blow your diet. You just need to be a smart eater and ask a few questions.

~ Stella