10 ways to eat (out) wisely in the new year

If your No. 1 resolution for the new year is to eat healthier and shed some pounds, congratulations and good luck.

But those of us who dine out frequently will need more than luck to make real progress. It will take dedication to some rules we know but don't always remember to follow.

So in the spirit of 2010, here are 10 simple but effective ways to eat well and wisely:

1. Read the menu before you go to avoid impulse ordering. It's also a way to be sure the restaurant has appealing, suitable choices.

2. Say yes to water and no to bread, especially if you're hungry. Satisfying your thirst will take the edge off your hunger. So will eating bread, but the caloric impact is much, much different.

3. Remember drinks have calories, too. Five ounces of wine has about 100 calories; 12 ounces of regular beer, about 150; and a 5-ounce Cosmopolitan, about 260.

4. Have salads and broth-based (not cream-based) soup as starters. They're usually lower in calories and more filling than items on the appetizer list. That's especially true at chains, where so many appetizers are fried.

5. If it's deep-fried, don't order it. Whatever it is, it has just been submerged in a vat of boiling fat, which will soon be on your thighs. I know it. You know it. We just have to stop.

6. Choose cuisines that are naturally more healthful. It's hard to beat Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food for big flavors with relatively few calories, and it's usually quite affordable. Japanese food, too, is light and doesn't depend on fat and sugar for flavor.

7. Don't hesitate to ask whether sides or sauces can substituted; request others that are more suitable for you.

8. Plan to take food home if portions are large. Stop at the halfway point and ask for a box.

9. Share a main course with a friend. Or, if you're dining alone and can't take food home at that moment, have an appetizer in place of an entree.

10. Plan your splurges. If you've been craving your favorite chef's molten chocolate lava for weeks, tighten your belt for a couple of days to compensate and then go for it.

A little chocolate for medicinal purposes can't hurt, and we have a long year ahead of us.