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Bread baskets before dinner, free drink refills, platter-size meals and rich desserts are some of the reasons eating out healthfully can be such a challenge.

Your desire to be good and not veer off program may also leave you feeling confused when so many dining out temptations surround you.

Don't fret. You can enjoy dining out - especially if you learn some simple healthy eating out tricks.

Here are some tips to guide you.

1. Do your homework. Most restaurants have a website where you can check out the various menu items. Some sites, especially fast food places, also list the nutritional information. Reading over a menu before you enter the restaurant will encourage you (at your leisure) to look over the different choices. Members here have even reached out to the dietitian for professional advice. Information is power and will help you feel more in control.

2. Have a downsizing plan. Since we know that the typical restaurant meal is enough to feed a twosome, you really need to walk in with a plan. Splitting an entrée or taking half home while having your own side salad or broth-based soup is a great plan of action. Another option is to order from the appetizer side of the menu (non-fried appetizers, please). Do not supersize your meal, even if you're tempted by the money savings. Also, be open to trying ethnic cuisines where vegetarian options are common and a great way to eat those good-for-you foods.

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3. Order it your way. Extra calories and fat are often lurking in sauces, salad dressings, cream-based soups and cheese-topped dishes. Asking for the sauce or dressing on the side is an easy way for you to have better control. Holding the cheese and asking for light on the cheese are also good tips to remember. Increase your intake of the healthy foods by asking for extra veggies in your main dish and for fruit instead of fries.

4. Enjoy and reflect. Once you start practicing these strategies, they will become second-nature to you. They also shouldn't take away from your eating pleasure. The goal is to still enjoy eating out but to do so without overeating. Take some time after eating out to see what strategies worked and what didn't. Log your food intake to gain even more insight. With more information, you can be savvy about dining out and master the tricks to dining out healthier.

I hope these tips will help you leave those restaurants feeling more satisfied and less guilty. Bon appétit!

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