By James M. Rippe

Eat at some fast food eateries on a regular basis, and you’d certainly have to count ketchup as a vegetable to have any hope of eating your daily five. And don’t even think about avoiding excess fat! But dining out need not be so fraught with peril for your healthy eating goals. If you keep these simple tips in mind, you can eat out, eat well, and eat right:

  • Select a restaurant that can help you stay on plan. Whether you’re headed out for fine dining or fast food (or anything in between), you can choose a restaurant that helps you meet your goals. For example, a sandwich shop where you can select lean ingredients and toppings may be a better choice than a place that offers only burgers and fries. The same sort of distinctions also can apply at better restaurants.

  • Order wisely to make the menu work for you. Almost every restaurant offers items and/or methods of preparation that you can enjoy with a cheerful heart. Make the menu work for you with wise selections:

    • Broiled, baked, or roasted rather than fried

    • Vegetable or clear sauces rather than butter or cream sauces

    • Steamed rather than creamed or fried veggies

    • Dressing on the side for your salad

  • Practice portion control. “Bigger is better” seems to be the catchphrase for portions at many restaurants. When presented with a plate heaped with enough for two or three, resist temptation — eat what you need, and take the rest home to Fido, or leave it. Where available, use calorie information to inform your choices.

    If the restaurant deserves a repeat visit, maybe you can share that great dish with a friend. You can also order an appetizer as an entree or seek restaurants that specialize in small-plate offerings.

  • Enjoy the occasional blowout. Remember that Greek tyrant Procrustes who chopped off chunks of visitors to fit his guest bed? That isn’t what heart-healthy eating is about. If a juicy steak with all the trimmings or a classic French dinner with great wine is your idea of the proper way to celebrate, bon appetit!

    Healthy eating is about overall moderation and balance. Only one caution: If your cardiologist has told you to avoid certain practices, pay close attention.