7 Life-Saving Hacks for Healthy Eating at Your Favorite Restaurants

Have you been avoiding Sunday brunch with the girls and date night at that incredible French cafe? If you think weight loss has to mean deprivation, think again! When you love eating out but you want to stay healthy, put these life-saving hacks in your back pocket. When it's time for your sister-in-law's birthday dinner or your monthly casual lunch with your coworkers, you'll be able to order smart and enjoy a delicious dining-out experience.

Think About Your Drink

For best results, stick to water when you eat at a restaurant. Not only do you avoid empty calories, but you also limit your sugar intake when you swear off sweetened iced tea, sodas and other beverages. If water isn't your thing, try unsweetened tea. Alcohol also adds calories without much nutritional value; the best choices are either a 4-oz glass of red wine or a cocktail with vodka and a diet mixer.

Choose Lean Meat

While a meat-free meal might seem like the healthiest option, it can backfire if you usually don't eat a vegetarian diet. If you don't feel full, you might overdo it on bread and other empty carbs. Select a lean cut like chicken breast or a less-fatty steak like filet mignon or sirloin so you'll get the protein you need to stay satiated until your morning cup of coffee without the added fat and calories.

Eat Before You Go

Avoid skipping lunch so you get the best bang for your buck at that new tapas place. Instead, eat a light, healthy meal before you dine out. Think carrot and celery sticks with low-fat ranch or whole-wheat pita with hummus. Otherwise, you might find yourself going harder than anticipated on the breadbasket. If you don't have time to eat beforehand, ordering a healthy appetizer can potentially reduce the overall calorie content of your meal.

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Slow the Pace

No matter how hungry you are, if you wolf down your meal you might keep eating long after you've had enough. Eating more slowly gives your brain time to process signals that you're full. Try setting down your fork and taking a sip of water between every bite or two.

Load Up on Veggies

When perusing the apps menu, skip anything breaded, creamy or fried. Instead, pack your plate with steamed or roasted veggies, order a starter salad with dressing on the side or choose a broth-based veggie soup. Ask to have your vegetables prepared with olive oil rather than butter. You can even ask for a double or triple side of veggies with your main to amp up the nutrients and reduce your caloric intake. See if you can swap fries or a loaded baked potato for broccoli, spinach or sweet potato fries.

Make a Plan

Check out the restaurant's menu online before you go, especially if you haven't visited before. This gives you a chance to set your heart on a healthy selection before the host seats your party. If you don't notice anything nutritious on the menu, you might want to pick a restaurant with a greater variety of choices. When in doubt, ask if the chef can prepare a simple meal of steamed veg and chicken.

Skip Dessert

That three-layer chocolate torte might look enticing, but it has little to offer in the way of nutritional value. If you have a sweet tooth, ask a friend (or two) to share. Otherwise, order coffee or espresso to enjoy a relaxed end to your meal without the extra sugar, calories and fat.

With these seven smart tips, you won't miss a beat when it comes to social engagements with eating involved. Ordering mindfully (and splurging everyone so often) can boost the health of your diet and may even lead to shedding a few unwanted points.