Eating out at a restaurant can be tricky when you’re trying to eat nutritiously. Articles that expose the amount of calories in popular restaurant picks can make it seem like a meal out of the house means total sabotage to a healthy lifestyle. However, even the healthiest eaters know that a dinner out with friends is too fun and delicious to pass up on from time to time. Here are some tips the professionals use to make any order a healthier one.

1. Focus on adding, not subtracting

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Photo courtesy of fatfreevegan.com

When people try to become more healthy, the first thing they think they should do is cut things from their diets. Instead on focusing on what to take away, focus on what nutritious foods you can add in. Ask to add vegetables to your pasta, or some lean protein like chicken or shrimp to your salad, to make it a balanced and satisfying meal.

2. Ask for half served, half packed

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Photo courtesy of foodsafety.com.au

Restaurants tend to cater to your eyes, not your stomach. Portion sizes are a huge contributor to the large calorie and fat count in common menu picks. When ordering a large meal, ask for them to bring half of it on the plate and half already packed up to take home. That way you can eat what’s on your plate and decide then if you’re still hungry for more, which you can take from the packed up portion. You’ll likely find that a half portion is enough to fill you up and then you get two meals for one.

3. Watch the prep

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Photo by Maggie Gorman

Sometimes a meal that would otherwise be really nutritious becomes a less healthy pick based on the methods they use to prepare it. For example, foods that are fried and high in added sugar. Descriptive words on the menu to avoid according to the pros are battered, crispy, breaded, sizzling, loaded, glazed and creamy. Instead aim for picks with words like roasted, baked, poached, seared, grilled, steamed and seasoned.

4. Avoid getting saucy

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Photo by Lauren Kaplan

There is nothing sadder than a dry chicken or a dressing-less salad. However, restaurants tend to overdo it when it comes to sauces and dressings. The classic move of ordering the dressing on the side isn’t just useful for salads. Ask for the glaze or pasta sauce to be brought on the side so that you can control the portions.

5. Substitute and ask questions

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Photo courtesy of eatingrules.com

Meals at restaurants are usually made to order, so don’t assume that adjustments can’t be made. Ask if you can get a seasoning instead of a buttered sauce on your fish or meat. Also, check to see if whole wheat switches can be made for pasta and pizza. If you’re unsure about what something is cooked in or the type of sauce it comes with, don’t be afraid to ask and request substitutions or adjustments.

6. Admit that you’re going to want dessert

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Photo by Emma Weir

Being completely honest, I know that when the waiter asks if we’d like to see a dessert menu, I’m probably going to say yes. To prepare ahead, leave some room for this third course when eating your appetizers and meal. Feel free to pack up the leftovers of the first course(s) and enjoy splitting this treat without feeling like you need to be rolled out after.

7. Know the good stuff

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This is a big one. Treating yourself and indulging only makes sense if it’s really a treat. To ensure that you really enjoy meals out, there are two things to keep in mind. First, if you eat out all the time, it’s not as special of an occasion. If eating out is something you only do once and a while, you’ll enjoy the treat of it more and feel less cautious about the menu picks you make. Second, know when the pick is worth it or not. There’s a difference between a sub-par brownie dish made with two-bite brownies and “whipped topping” and an authentic New York Cheesecake in NYC – know that difference.

8. Eat consciously

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Photo by Emma Weir

Last but not least, enjoy your meal. Eating out should be a social experience that is shared. It’s fun to go out, explore foods, try new things and enjoy some old favourites. But before scarfing the food down out of excitement, enjoy the smells, sights, tastes and company around you. Even the diner around the corner should be an experience of enjoyment. Eating nutritiously is important for our health, but meals out are more than that so enjoy what restaurants offer that a green smoothie just can’t.