Dining out without excess guilt, pounds

Finding meals and food combinations that won’t break your diet or ruin your caloric intake for the day takes knowledge and practice.

However, anyone can learn to select the best choices with a few rules to keep in mind.

First, think ahead.

If possible, go online and see if the restaurant lists calorie analysis for its foods. This way, you can choose which items fit into your diet and you will avoid menu distraction when ordering. It is important not to starve yourself during the day in anticipation of a large dinner. Eat mini meals and space healthy snacks throughout the day to keep energy levels up and avoid splurges later. Apples, almonds, dried apricots, grapes, cheese sticks or a dab of peanut butter on whole-wheat toast are examples of healthy foods that offer a combination of fiber, healthy fat and protein.

If you are unable to decide what you will have beforehand, look for low-fat cooking methods such as steamed, broiled, baked, poached and stir-fried. Beware of high-fat terms such as cream sauce, au gratin, smothered, breaded, “with gravy,” hollandaise, prime or pastry crust. Ask that butter, sauces and dressings be served on the side. Dip your fork into the sauce or dressing before piercing your food.

At fast food restaurants, grilled chicken and roast beef sandwiches minus mayonnaise and cheese make good choices. Horseradish sauce, hot sauce, salsa, mustard and cocktail sauce are relatively low in calories and can add needed flavor as can vinegar, lemon, ginger and spices.

When ordering a salad the best dressings to consider are vinaigrettes, or low fat dressings. Beware of the Caesar salad, which is often higher in fat than a cheeseburger.

Perhaps the best restaurant advice is just to avoid the extras. Choose a calorie free beverage such as water or unsweet tea. Avoid appetizers or choose a garden salad. Skip the butter on the bread and avoid tempting desserts. If you must have something sweet, non-fat frozen yogurt or fruit will do the trick. And remember, if you feel you will be tempted to overeat, ask the waiter to put half of your meal in a to-go box before your meal is brought to the table.