10 tips for restaurant dining as a family

7. Outsmart the menu.

There's no sign at a restaurant entrance that says, "Ye who enter must order an entree." Get the food you want in the amounts you need. If restaurants insist on serving gigantic portions, then take advantage of appetizers, soups, salads, a la carte items and side dishes. Split menu items with a dining partner. For example, in an Italian restaurant, one person might order pasta with a tomato sauce while the other orders a chicken or seafood dish with a vegetable. When dining with a group, order one or two fewer dishes than the number of people at the table - and eat family style.

8. Speak your mind (but be polite).

Don't hesitate to ask for the food you want. An essential skill for dining out is getting your food prepared the way you like it. Tell your server your needs when you're handed the menu. Ask for an opinion of what you should order - and keep your requests practical. For example, substitute salad or broth-based soup for chips or fries, or ask for mustard instead of mayonnaise. And it never hurts to add a "please" and "thank you," and leave a nice tip.

9. Resign from the "clean-plate club."

We're sorry: Membership in the clean-plate club is at capacity. Apply to the far more exclusive "leave-a-few-bites-on-your-plate-club" instead. Eat slowly, enjoy your meal and push the plate away when you've had enough. Lay utensils diagonally across your plate and cover with your napkin to keep you from diving back in when you're no longer hungry.

10. You can take it with you.

If a portion is too big, don't feel like you're wasting your money if you can't eat it all - ask for a doggy bag and take it home. If there's a lot left, ask your server to put the food into two take-home containers for a couple of meals. And if you're truly daring, ask the server to pack half your portion into a doggy bag before it even reaches your table. That way, you won't be tempted to eat a super-sized portion at the restaurant.

Hope Warshaw, M.M.Sc., R.D., C.D.E., is a nationally recognized dietitian and diabetes educator with more than 25 years experience in the field. Her books include: Eat Out, Eat Right (Surrey, 1995) and What to Eat When You're Eating Out (American Diabetes Association, 2004).

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