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updated: 10/26/2010 2:29 PM

Ward off dining diet busters

Lean and Lovin' It

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If you've ever headed to a restaurant's website to check on the calorie and fat content of menu items you know that some restaurants (like McDonald's and Applebee's) make the info easy to find. Other restaurants, even after serious searching, leave you right where you started.

At least The Cheesecake Factory site cuts you off at the pass with this note: "At this time, we do not provide nutritional information for our menu selections on our website." Don't expect to discover the answers on the in-restaurant menus either.

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Who can blame them for keeping the numbers to themselves. According to Men's Health magazine, the Monte Cristo sandwich described as "French toast stuffed with bacon, grilled ham, scrambled eggs and melted Swiss cheese dusted with powdered sugar and served with strawberry preserves" delivers almost a full day's calories (2,133) plus 58 saturated fat grams and more than a day's worth of sodium.

That's just the sandwich! I can't imagine many lean, or trying-to-get-lean folks, sitting down at The Cheesecake Factory if they had the facts.

Here's another example: If you're hankerin' for breakfast food, skip past IHOP since it still doesn't reveal nutritional information. If you roll into Mickey D's instead, ignore the Deluxe Breakfast (1,360 calories, 64 fat grams and day's worth of sodium) and go for an old standby, an Egg McMuffin (310 calories and 12 fat grams) and a cup of black coffee.

At lunch, there's only one fast place that gets many lean diners into their door: Subway. Subway has easy-to-find, in-depth nutrition information on its website and is one of the few fast food places where you control everything on your sandwich.

I suggest starting with the nine-grain wheat bread (low in added sugar, higher in fiber) and skipping the cheese. Have them slap on turkey breast (lowest in calories and fat of all Subway meats) and then go wild with veggies. Skip the oil and vinegar and mayo in favor of a little extra mustard. Pick a bag of apple slices for dessert and you're good to go.

If Olive Garden is your go-to dinner choice, check out its online nutrition section before heading out the door. You'll know to say "no" to the Lasagna Fritta appetizer (parmesan-breaded and fried lasagna pieces) at 1,030 calories and 63 fat grams and go with a bowl of pasta e fagioli and its more reasonable 130 calories and 2.5 fat grams.

Avoid Olive Garden's Never Ending Pasta Bowl, since that's an open invitation to a diet disaster. Consider two main course options: Venetian Apricot Chicken (380 calories, 4 fat grams) or Seafood Brodeto (480 calories, 16 fat grams). Avoid their breadsticks since each one adds 150 calories to your meal.

If you must have dessert, go with their strawberry and white chocolate cream cake 210 calories (half of them from fat, however).

The point here is, that what you don't know can hurt you. By investing a little time online you can save yourself weigh-day aggravation.

Try this recipe: As the weather cools down this month one of my favorite easy-to-make dinners is one-pan casseroles. Here's one of my favorites.

• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at don@theleanwizard.com.

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