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Eating Healthy Restaurant Meals

If eating out makes it hard for you to lose weight, CBS News Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay shows you how to look at restaurant menus in a new way in her Great American Weight Loss series.

Many people who dine out regularly find it difficult to control their waistlines. They eat out at restaurants because they love to, or because they have busy schedules, with little time to cook.

But that becomes their excuse for not losing weight and keeping it off.

The Excuse of the Day: I eat out at restaurants.

However, registered dietician Cathy Nonas of St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York says that eating at restaurants regularly does not have to mean extra pounds.

She suggests that people trying to keep their weight down by following four simple rules of thumb:

  1. Think about the whole meal - pick your desired food and get rid of the other high-calorie options.
  2. Eat plainer, meaning, ask how the meal is prepared. You'll have more choices that way.
  3. Eat smaller portions - leave food on your plate.
  4. Plan for dessert, if you want it.
  5. Nonas offers a few examples of the two meals that people tend to seek out in restaurants the most -- lunch and dinner.

    Lunch:

    Here are two classic choices for the midday meal -- bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich on toast vs. a chicken salad sandwich.

    Although most people associate bacon with fat, Nonas says the BLT has less calories than the chicken salad, which is loaded with mayonnaise. To help cut down on fat in your BLT, ask for mayo on the side. That way, you can spread a moderate amount onto the sandwich yourself.

    For side dishes, cole slaw is better than potato salad. Though both have mayo, the starchy potatoes are higher in calories.

    Dinner:

    The bread basket is a tricky trap.

    "This appetizer has enough calories for the entire day," Nonas says.

    If you really want bread, wait as long as possible so that you will have less time to eat the bread and more time eating your meal.

    If you choose an appetizer, avoid fatty foods like buffalo wings, which can add up to 2,000 calories. Have a side salad with no-fat dressing or steamed vegetables instead.

    For the main course, try to balance the pleasure foods with the healthier choices.

    If you want meat loaf, ask for a baked potato instead of mashed potatoes, which are often whipped up with butter and heavy cream. Don't be afraid to ask for a double portion of steamed vegetables.

    You can even factor in dessert, if you regulate the rest of your meal.

    "I like dessert," admits Nonas. "I would say, order the steamed vegetables and have your dessert -- and enjoy it."

    Nonas says that alcohol can be a part of your meal as well, if you are careful about how you ordr it and with what you order it.


    The Great American Weight Loss Tip of the Day: Eat half portions of high-calorie foods.

    When you dine out, consider choosing a main course that is very basic. It doesn't have to be devoid of flavor, but a plain meal -- without high-calorie trimmings such as gravy -- is likely to have fewer hidden calories.

    Reported by Dr. Emily Senay