While the holidays tend to translate into restaurant meals that are bigger and higher in calories, eating out doesn't have to be unhealthy, an expert says.

Making wise choices at restaurants can prevent consuming hundreds of extra calories.

"The average American consumes close to 50 percent of his or her meals outside of the home, and fast-food restaurants are abundant," said Dr. Jessica Bartfield, an internist who specializes in nutrition and weight management at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, in a Loyola University Health System news release.

Following a few rules can keep fast-food meals in calorie check.

When choosing a restaurant, Bartfield recommends sandwich shops that offer vegetable toppings, which can add nutrients.

"I am also a fan of fast-food places that offer soup, or even chili as soup can be a terrific option, particularly ones loaded with veggies, lean meats and beans," she said.

Also, beware of the bread bowl, which can increase calories by up to 1,000.Here are fast-food menu tips to help stay healthy:

Choose grilled, not fried. Choosing foods that are grilled can save 280 calories and 27 grams of fat.

Hold the high-fat extras. Cheese, mayonnaise and salad dressings can pack on up to 100 calories per serving. Avoid these extra ingredients unless low-fat versions are available.

Order small sizes. Opt for smaller portions and single burgers, rather than double or bonus sizes.

Avoid sugary drinks. These empty calories add up quickly and offer no nutritional value.

Save half for later. Wrap up the uneaten portion of your meal and have it for your next meal to save money and calories. -- HealthDay

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