Anytime you go to a restaurant, fast food spot or sandwich shop there's always the option of having a side dish.
The choices seem endless: chips, potato salad, macaroni salad, macaroni and cheese, French fries, green salad, chocolate chip cookies, pickles, pasta salad, sweet potato fries, onion rings, mozzarella sticks.
There is nothing wrong with side dishes, but they add to the portions the main dish provides. Even when cooking at home, the main dish usually provides enough calories.
When all these other side dishes are added to the dining mix, they can be trouble. So when it comes to figure-friendly, health conscious options, which side is the right side?
When I go to restaurants I usually get the side salad, with no croutons or cheese, and oil and vinegar as the dressing. When I go to a sandwich shop, I usually don't get a side if I get a larger sandwich. If I get a smaller sandwich, I get a bag of Sun Chips or Baked Lays.
Ditch things like cookies and sweets, fried sides and such items as potato or macaroni salad that are usually made with mayonnaise.
Take the time to think about what you are ordering and how hungry you are.
The key is to always be aware of what you are eating and how much. It's very easy to not eat all day and then go overboard in your choices for dinner.
When dining out, it's a good idea to have the waiter bring a box with your meal so that you can save half of it for later, keeping it out of sight and off of your plate for now. This is especially important in the United States where portion sizes are out of control -- and so is the obesity problem.
You can also make your own healthy side dishes to have with your home-cooked meals. One of the healthy meals I like to make is turkey chili. I make this a lot for myself or if I have to bring something to a dinner party or potluck.
What better side to go with chili than corn bread? Marie Callender's has a low-fat corn bread mix available in stores that I bought one time in a rush between work and a Super Bowl party, where I planned to bring my chili.
I made the corn bread in small muffin tins and -- the magic words -- had only one. They are low-fat, but still a side and so good I probably could have eaten three or four if I wasn't paying attention to my portions.
A great side to meat or even a whole-wheat pasta dish is a vegetable dish. If you want something cold, cut up some cucumber, tomatoes and onions. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and fresh ground pepper on top.
If you want a hot side, sauté as many vegetables as you want in some non-fat cooking spray and a little bit of extra virgin olive oil. Then mix in one to two of your favorite flavors of Laughing Cow light spreadable cheeses, let them melt in with the vegetables and add a few spices. I prefer garlic powder, fresh ground pepper and hot red pepper flakes.
In addition to the flavor they add, there are other benefits to using herbs and spices. Find out more in a previous column of mine: "Add spice to your food -- and your life" (March 24).
There are so many benefits to not overeating, but keeping your body constantly fueled and fed properly.
As you try not to overdo it, make creating new, healthy meals with family, friends, co-workers or gym buddies a fun thing to do. Everyone needs social support and motivation.
Keep up the good work, and make sure that your sides are correctly portioned and on the the right side of your fitness goals -- not on your hips and backside.
Lunden Souza can be reached at email@example.com.