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Healthy Guide to Eating Out

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Step 4: Nudge them toward lean main dishes.

A few key moves to make:

Subtract the sauce, cheese, and bacon. This makes a tremendous difference: A plain Whopper Jr. has a reasonable 290 calories and 12 grams of fat — fine for a tween or teen once in a while — but add cheese and mayo, and the numbers catapult up to 420 calories and 25 grams of fat. At Red Robin, a California Chicken Burger with everything on it packs 57 grams of fat; hold all the sauces, cheese, guacamole, and bacon, and it plummets to a manageable 9 grams of fat.

Give up the crunch. We know, we know: You've heard before that you should point your kids toward grilled — not crispy or fried — chicken and fish. But let these numbers convince you just how vital this is: At Red Lobster, the kids' broiled fish has 150 calories and just 1 gram of fat, while the kids' chicken fingers pack 414 calories and 24 grams of fat. At Chili's, the Pepper Pals Grilled Chicken Platter for kids has a reasonable 150 calories and 1 gram of fat, while the Country Fried Chicken Crispers have an astounding 560 calories and 37 grams of fat. (If your kid really craves something crunchy, order him a side salad — with dressing is OK — and ask your server to go heavy on the crisp veggies like carrots, cucumbers, and bell peppers.)

Turn appetizers and soups into entrées. Scope out the starters on the adult menu for wise nutritional buys. Among the options we found were a 160-calorie bowl of low-fat chicken noodle soup at Panera Bread (pair with a salad or whole-grain bread) and 440-calorie Asian dumplings at Ruby Tuesday (with a side veggie). Perfect for smaller, adventurous appetites. Tip: Steer your kid toward bean soups, if possible; they're high in fiber and antioxidants.

Borrow from the main menu. Granted, grown-up dinner entrées can be expensive, but if two family members split a dish, it can be a win-win, nutritionally and financially. At Chili's, the Guiltless Grilled Salmon has just 395 calories and 6 grams of saturated fat (add some side dishes to make a meal of it); the chicken fajitas at Red Robin with guacamole and sautéed vegetables (hold the sour cream, melted margarine, and garlic-parmesan spread) clock in at 810 calories and 21 grams of fat.

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