And ways to stay on track when you DO indulge in your favorite restaurant meals.

We all know that making our own meals at home is better for our waistlines (and our wallets) than dining out. But do we know the reasons why?

1. When we eat at home, we know WHAT we’re eating.

We go to our favorite restaurant and order a salad. That seems safe, right? Lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers … all good healthy veggies, right? Right.

But the cheese that’s on top? It might be full fat and three servings instead of one. The croutons? Cooked in butter and full of simple carbohydrates. The grilled chicken is coated in oil, and the dressing can pack more fat than a Big Mac. Suddenly that salad isn’t looking so safe.

Compare that to a salad you make at home where YOU control not only the ingredients, but how they are prepared and how much of them you use.

Which leads us to the next reason …

2. When we eat at home, it's easier to control how MUCH we’re eating.

Portion sizes in restaurants have grown exponentially over the years. Twenty years ago, the average fast-food hamburger was 333 calories. Today it packs 590 calories. In fact, many restaurant “servings” are actually two or three. In addition, the average household serving plate is much smaller than those you find in casual chain restaurants, leading you to believe that, since you are eating just what's on your plate, you're eating an appropriate serving.

portion chart

Courtesy of Learning Zone Xpress

But eating out is fun. It’s social. It’s how we celebrate. Food brings people together and restaurants let us enjoy the company of family and friends without the hassle of cleaning up … and it tastes good.

So does this mean in order to be fit and healthy we can never enjoy our favorite Italian bistro or sandwich shop ever again?

ABSOLUTELY NOT!

On the other hand, eating out seven days a week AND maintaining a slim waistline is a bet I wouldn’t take. 

If you can, reserve restaurants for special occasions only—birthdays and other celebrations. This will make the meal that much more special and keeps the excitement building for the occasion. 

And, while you're there, here are a few tips to help keep you on track.

  1. To know WHAT you’re eating, ask for all sauces, butters, oils, and dressings on the side. Then, rather than dump your side on top of your meal, dip your fork in the sauce first and then into your meal.
  1. To control how MUCH you’re eating, look up the nutrition facts online before you go. If the entrée you’re salivating over has more than 1000 calories, cut it in half as soon as it arrives and plan to take that half home. If you're at a buffet, choose the smallest plate to load up and hit the veggies first.

What do you do to keep on your fitness track while dining out? Leave your advice in the comments below!