Everyone loves eating out. It’s a great way to unwind, catch up with friends and family and indulge in all the wonderful things that a talented chef can create. Unfortunately, the magic coming out of the kitchen of your favourite restaurant probably won’t match up with your nutritional and diet goals. So, does eating out have to be canceled out of any healthy eating plan?

Please note that we do believe you can have anything you want in your diet—enjoy everything—however, if you’re after fat loss and have a particular goal that you want to reach, sticking to some of the suggestions below might be a good idea.

Is There Such a Thing As A Healthy Restaurant Choice?

Yes, of course there is. The healthy eating trend has been blowing up for a number of years now and chefs are taking notice. You can guarantee that your favourite restaurant will have at least a small section of its menu devoted to healthy creations. However, you still have to know what to look for and what to avoid.

A Few General Rules for a Healthy Restaurant Experience

Ask for an entrée size or share with a friend:  European cuisine, particularly Southern European cuisine, is full of fats and carbs but their obesity rates are far lower than ours and that’s because they have mastered the art of portion control. If you’re going to indulge cut the size of the meal and you won’t have to pay as bigger price on the treadmill.

Skip the sides: There’s no point matching that perfectly cooked steak with a huge side of fries or mashed potato—they’ll add a heap to your waistline. If you want to add something to your main ask for a side of steamed or grilled vegetables with a dash of olive oil.

Make sparkling water your new best friend: Nobody likes sipping on tap water at a restaurant but sparkling water is incredible refreshing and will even help you with your digestion. The best part is, it won’t add to your calorie count. So, instead of downing an entire bottle of Prosecco just stick to the one glass and order a San Pellegrino instead.

Look for the keywords: If you’ve been doing your healthy eating research a few keywords will be burned into your brain. Look for proteins when selecting your meal and then match your protein with other keywords like roasted and grilled. If you see ‘grilled fish,’ or ‘roasted lamb’ you can be sure what you’re eating is relatively healthy. If your protein is teamed with a bad keyword like ‘fried,’ it’s probably one you should avoid.

KISS: When it comes to eating healthy when you are out at a restaurant you really do need to Keep It Simple Stupid. Grilled Lamb with Sautéed Greens is a perfect choice. Molasses Glazed Lamb with Gorgonzola and Sweet Pea Risotto isn’t a good choice. Sometimes the word count says a lot about the calorie count.

Never eat out starving: All of us are guilty of this one. You know you’re going out for dinner so you starve yourself all day to ensure you can fit as much food in as possible. This is the worst way to control your portion sizes. If you’re trying to cut your intake you should have a light snack or even a low-calorie protein shake before you head out – just to make sure you don’t order half the menu by the time you leave.

Ignore the breadbasket: The breadbasket is the perfect example of empty calories. The bread you find in restaurants is usually simple white bread that won’t do you any good and will do your diet goals a lot of harm. Say no or ask for a bowl of warm olives or pickled vegetables instead.

Ask yourself where you’re at: These rules are aimed at people who are at a critical stage of their diet and are looking to make big changes. If you’ve mastered your diet and have been living a healthy lifestyle for a period of time don’t deny yourself the occasional indulgence.

Fitness models have their cheat days and you deserve them too. If you haven’t so much as looked at a simple carb or a fatty protein for a couple of months enjoy that pasta or risotto – just make sure you do the work in the gym and in the kitchen the next day.