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How to shop till you drop without blowing your calorie budget.

You set the alarm, get up early, and race to the mall for a day of power shopping. Then, a few hours later, you feel tired and cranky -- and realize you've been so consumed with shopping that you haven't eaten in hours. So you head to the mall food court -- where if you're not careful, you could inhale a 510-calorie peppermint hot chocolate, a 570-calorie glazed pretzel, a 700-calorie slice of pizza, or a 1000-calorie burrito in a matter of seconds. Yikes!

But don't despair. While food courts are loaded with places serving burgers, fries, ice cream, cookies, fancy pretzels, pizza, fancy coffees, and donuts, there are also plenty of lower-calorie options.

How do you find them? Don't expect to see calorie counts posted on the menu board. For that, you'll need to do a little homework. Check out the nutrition information on the restaurant web sites, either on your BlackBerry or before you leave home. Or follow some of these eight expert tips on how to navigate the mall food court without blowing your calorie budget:

8 Tricks to Control Calories at the Mall Food Court

1. Eat Breakfast. Before you head to the mall, start with a good night's sleep, followed by a hearty breakfast that will keep you energized for hours. "Eating every few hours will keep your energy up and help you resist the temptation of those tantalizing smells from cinnamon rolls, decadent cookies, or holiday coffee drinks that waft through the mall," says Jo Lichten, RD, PhD, author of Dining Lean.

Make sure your morning meal contains both protein and fiber. "Have a bowl of oatmeal with some dried fruit and nuts, or whole-grain toast and a few eggs," Lichten suggests.

2. Drink Plenty of Fluids, Especially Water. It's easy to overlook the importance of hydration when you're busy. But enough fluid keeps muscles performing well, and is essential to feeling good.

3. Bring Some Munchies. "If you take along nutritious foods or mini-meals you will be less likely to indulge in a mega-calorie snack," says American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Kerry Neville, MS, RD. These are her favorite snacks to stash in her bag and eat at the mall:

  • Fresh fruit -- an apple, banana, grapes
  • Low-fat cheese slices
  • Whole-grain crackers
  • Granola bars that contain plenty of protein and fiber
  • Turkey sandwich
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • 100-calorie packs of nuts, trail mix, or rice cakes
  • Popcorn
  • Bottle of water

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