With a few modifications, many menu items can be transformed into healthful choices. (Keep in mind that many of your requests will be uninformed, since without the actual recipe or nutrition breakdown, you just won’t know where the fat is coming from.) Start with your server. “Tell the server you’re on a diet or you’re watching your calories, and ask what the healthiest thing on the menu is,” suggests chef Kathleen Daelemans. While not always definitive, the server’s knowledge is a good place to start.

From a recommendation, you may want to modify the dish a bit further. Some meals lend themselves to this more than others. Chicken, meat and vegetable dishes are good bets; lasagna and ravioli, both of which are usually premade, are not. Last, know your limits. Asking a restaurant to cook a meal without oil may be unreasonable because restaurant grills are much hotter than a home version. However, you could request that the dish be prepared with less oil.

The following special requests from Healthy Dining in Los Angeles (Healthy Dining Publications, 2004, healthy-dining.com) can be used as general guidelines for reducing the amount of calories and fat in restaurant-menu items.

When ordering… Request…
>> Grilled fish, meat or poultry >> Less oil
>> Chicken >> Skinless
>> Potatoes or vegetables >> Steamed rather than sautéed
>> Omelets >> Egg whites prepared without oil
>> Vegetables, eggs, meat >> No margarine or butter
>> Salad >> No croutons or tortilla strips; dressing on the side