Menu Ordering without Calorie Info, Plus Healthy Oil 411!

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Hi HG,

Thanks to you, I know to always check if a restaurant's nutritional info is available; and when it is, I'm able to make smart selections. But I'm like a deer in headlights when the place doesn't provide calorie and fat counts. How can I make good choices when I'm faced with this scenario?

Hungry in Headlights

Hi Hungry in Headlights,

While it's fantastic that so many restaurants are now providing nutrition stats (many chains are actually required to), not every place has caught on. But this doesn't mean you can't make smart choices everywhere, and it definitely doesn't mean you need to avoid restaurants without stats available. I eat at restaurants that don't provide calorie counts all the time! Here are some tips 'n tricks to help you out...

See if the menu is online. Even without the nutritional info, it's helpful to know what's available in advance. This way you can take your time reviewing everything on the menu and deciding which is your best bet. You can also do a little research beforehand. Wondering about the chicken marsala at your local Italian restaurant? Look up similar dishes on restaurant websites that do provide stats. Not sure what béchamel sauce is and if it's light or heavy? Look it up online! (P.S. It's cream sauce made from butter, flour, and milk or cream.)

When it comes to salads, always order the dressing on the side. Try to order ingredients like cheese and nuts on the side too. These items are generally high in fat -- getting them on the side makes it easy to evaluate exactly how much you're getting; then you can control the amount you add.

Learn serving size info for common foods, so you know about how many calories the portion on your plate is packing. Restaurant serving sizes are often REALLY large. You might know that a 5-oz. baked potato has around 130 calories, but did you know that said potato is only about the size of a fist? That soda-can-sized spud has closer to 300 calories! Check out this GREAT guide from our pals at Weight Watchers to get familiar with the basics.

Don't be afraid to ask how things are made. Find out if the catch of the day is breaded. Ask if that chicken special is coated in oil or just spritzed with lemon. Then you can account for any heavy ingredients, and find out if your dish can be prepared with less of (or without) them; or just choose something else.

When in doubt, keep it simple. Go for lean-protein-based dishes (like chicken breast) that are grilled, broiled, or baked. Skip creamy sauces and go for tomato-based sauces (on the side!). Stick with steamed veggies instead of the schmancy side order du jour. And get the bowl of berries for dessert, not the mysterious flourless torte.

Check out these HG survival guides and tips 'n tricks! Chinese, seafood, Mediterranean... even Indian! There's also a general dining-out guide.

Hope you're feeling ready to take on any restaurant!

Hello Hungry Girl,

I hit my 70-lb. weight-loss goal in August 2010, and I've been maintaining it since then with the help of your recipes and advice. Thank you! I do have a couple of questions for you. I keep hearing that it's important to consume a certain amount of healthy oil everyday. Which kind of oil is best, and what are some ways to add it to my diet without going overboard?

Oil Oblivious

Hi Oil Oblivious,

First off, congrats on losing the weight and keeping it off! That is AMAZING. As for your Qs, here's the deal. Many types of oil contain monounsaturated fats, a.k.a. the good-for-you kind of fat. Vegetable oil, canola oil, olive oil, and sesame oil all have these healthy fats. The key, of course, is portion control, because the calories and fat grams add up quickly. According to nutrition pros, you need to consume only about 1 tbsp. per day for heart health. Here are some ideas for how to get your fix without overdoing it...

I like to use a small amount of oil when it'll really enhance the flavor of a dish, not just keep it from sticking to my skillet. (For that, I use nonstick spray.) It's also a good idea to add oil only to dishes that are low in fat to begin with so that the total fat count remains reasonable. If you're cooking up some chicken for a salad with blue cheese, avocado, and pecans, it's probably not the best time to add oil. But for meals like this chicken 'n veggie foil pack, a little oil is a great idea. Sesame oil is incredible in low-cal Asian dishes -- click here for a bunch of recipes! And olive oil tastes amazing in veggie recipes like these fajitas and this sandwich.

You can also get a healthy-oil fix from supermarket picks that are made with oil. Sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil are delicious. And I really like Bolthouse Farms Olive Oil Vinaigrettes -- they're all-natural and the stats are totally impressive.

BTW, here's one VERY important thing to keep in mind: If you eat out at restaurants, you're probably getting plenty of oil without even realizing it. So you might want to skip the added oil on those days!

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