We love to eat out. In fact, a 2015 Bloomberg Markets article reported that for the first time ever, Americans spent more money eating out than on groceries. This is despite the fact that we typically consume more calories and fat at restaurants than we do at home. Eating out so much doesn’t exactly support our common goal of eating better and maintaining healthy weight! So how can we make our new habit of eating out healthier? Try these six tips for a start.

Know before you go
Review the menu before you get to the restaurant. This will give you a chance (without the distraction of conversation or cocktails) to look at the entire menu and choose something good. What’s good? Always use these criteria:
1. Tasty
2. Interesting – choose something you couldn’t make at home.
3. Fits into your daily meal plan. In other words, your choice should not provide your entire daily calorie, fat, or sodium allowance on a single plate.

food-1050813_640Try tapas
Small plates are increasingly popular at many restaurants, and with good reason. You get to embark on a brief culinary adventure without making a full entrée commitment. What’s more tapas usually mean fewer calories, and are easy to share.

Order immediately
Yes, part of the fun of going out is slowing the pace of life. You get to relax and enjoy friends and family. But too often that means we linger too long over the bread and olive oil or chips and salsa. Skip those extra calories and order immediately. Alternatively, you can order a salad or broth based soup (choose one with veggies and whole grains) as soon as you sit down. You’ll consume fewer calories.

Some entrees look more like family style platters. Still, if it is really delicious and you’re distracted by everything happening at the table, you may eat a meal meant for more than one. Remove the temptation by sharing with your dining companion or asking for a take-out box with your meal. Pack half the food right away and save it for a lunch time treat. Share dessert, too.

Sauce on the side
If your meal comes with dressing or sauce, ask for it on the side and use sparingly.

Watch liquid calories
Cocktails and soda are great calorie and sugar traps. Avoid them by substituting or alternating with water.

Enjoy eating out without working against your goal of eating more healthfully. Choose wisely and eat mindfully. Slow down and bring your awareness to the experience of the meal. You may just find that you eat less and enjoy your food more.