If you're considering a restaurant you've never tried before, look up its menu online or stop by to make sure you'll be able to order the meal you want — many establishments display their menus outside. You won't be able to learn much about portion sizes, of course, but at least you'll know whether the menu includes some decent options. You could even pick the safest bets before you go in. That way you won't have to look at the menu and be tempted by steak smothered in hollandaise sauce or deep-fried cheese blintzes.
If you dine out frequently, keep your own personal list of diet-friendly restaurants in your area — places where you know you'll be able to get a great-tasting, low-calorie meal.
There are some kinds of restaurants you should avoid altogether…unless you have an iron will. All-you-can-eat joints, buffet-style restaurants and even sprawling salad bars pose a hazard; salad bars can be great for dieters, but many are stocked with calorie-rich dishes like creamy pasta salads. Better to go somewhere where you can get a simple garden salad with dressing on the side. As for fried-chicken and barbecue joints, most of what's on their menus is so high in calories and fat, you'll bust your calorie budget before you satisfy your hunger.
Fast-food restaurants have made some progress in offering healthier alternatives to their usual fare, such as grilled chicken sandwiches and salads. But even those can be loaded with hidden calories. Menus change all the time, as chains constantly seek offerings that sell better. And even as they test healthier fare, fast-food restaurants keep adding bigger, unhealthier items as well, or loading up salad with fried chicken and creamy dressing. So while fast-food restaurants offer convenience and familiarity, you'll need to be extra careful when eating at them. Remember, you're shooting for at least two servings of vegetables; at your local burger joint, you'll be lucky to get a piece of lettuce and thin slice of tomato.
Even at pricier restaurants, you need to be specific about your desires or you'll end up with piles of high-calorie food on your plate. Take control from the start, and don't let the restaurants dictate your dining experience. Then check out page 190, where you'll find swaps for some of Canada's most popular restaurant chains.