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  1.    Skip the breadbasket. Although you may think you are starving upon arrival to the restaurant, keep in mind you have a whole meal ahead of you. Pace yourself. That also goes for tortilla chips at Mexican restaurants.
  2.    Easy on the appetizer. Opt out, split an appetizer, or start lightly with a cup of broth-based soup or salad with the dressing on the side. If you aren’t careful, some appetizers can have the same or more calories than your actual meal. By following these tips, you won’t deter your daily or meal caloric intake.
  3. Heart health tip: Be sure to include spinach in your side or appetizer salad for some extra vitamin C and A!
  4.    Drink lightly. If you are going to drink alcohol, keep your mixers low calorie, such as water, diet soda/juice, or diet tonic water. Also be sure to keep in mind that Valentine’s Day is about enjoying each other’s company and laughter. To ensure that you remember all the lovely details of this great night out, limit yourself to 1-2 alcoholic beverages.
  5. Heart health tip: Choose red wine (1-5 oz. glass for women and 2-5 oz. glasses for men).
  6.    Modify your meals. When choosing entrees, try to stick with broiled, baked, or steamed, instead of fried or breaded, to avoid extra saturated fat calories. Substitute French fries or potato chips/mashed potatoes for a side of non-starchy vegetables or fruit.
  7. Heart health tip: Choose salmon or tuna to bump up your omega 3 fatty acid intake.
  8.    Portion control. Be sure to keep an eye on how your plate looks when it arrives to the table. To keep your plate in check, ask yourself…is my plate colorful? Is a quarter of my plate lean protein, a quarter starch or carbohydrate, and half devoted to fruit and/or vegetables?
  9. Heart health tip: Make your side vegetable red, yellow, or orange. These colorful veggies, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and red peppers are chalk full of heart healthy antioxidants.
  10.    Be devious with your dessert. Choose a fruit-based dessert to get in an extra fruit serving for the day, choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate to boost your antioxidant intake and heart health benefits, split a dessert to reduce overall calories, gift with a small chocolate box instead of a large box, or gift each other with non-food related things, such as a spa day or a bouquet of flowers.
  11. Heart health tip. Opt for the dark chocolate to ensure you get your heart health benefits from flavonoids. Dark chocolate-covered strawberries or three Ghirardelli dark chocolate squares should do the trick!

– By Liz Weber, Registered Dietitian at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s