It can be challenging to make healthier choices while dining away from home. With convenient food options becoming more prevalent, people are consuming more fast food than ever.

Moreover, dining out plays a huge role in a person’s nutrient intake and nutrition status. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that fast-food consumption has been associated with an increased intake of calories, fat and sodium. It is important to know the wide variety of healthy options available when dining out and it can be easy to incorporate healthy items for your meals or snacks.

Let's go through some simple tips:

1. Searching menus and labels

Read over the menu beforehand. You may be more inclined to make unhealthy choices when hungry or distracted while dining out. When trying to select healthier options, look for key words on the menu or product labels such as broiled, steamed, baked, roasted, light, fresh, grilled or sautéed. Those cooking methods equate to less fat and fewer calories than fried options.

Compare calories, fat and sodium for different menu items and products. Most restaurants and fast-food chains are required to list nutrition information for their items. In stores, you can also use the nutrition facts label to compare different products. Choose items lower in calories, saturated fat and sodium.

2. Consider your drink

There are various beverage alternatives to choose from that are low-calorie and do not contain any added sugars. You can choose water with lemon or fruit infused water, flavored or unflavored sparkling water, fat-free or low-fat milk, coffee or unsweetened tea.

3. Start with a salad

Begin your meal with a salad. You can customize your salad by packing fruits, vegetables and nuts onto your salad as delicious toppings for added nutrients and fiber to help you feel satisfied. Control excessive amounts of salad dressing; ask to get your dressing on the side and use small amounts. You can also dip your fork in the dressing before the salad. This minimizes the use of dressings.

4. Ask your server

When dining out, talk to your server or chef about the preparation and ingredients used as well as if there are healthier substitutions available. Fill your plate with fruits and vegetables, and customize your meals by combining side vegetables from different dishes to go with your meal.

Ask for 100% whole-wheat options for breads, rolls and pasta when choosing burgers or main dishes. Request butter, cheese, toppings, dressings and sauces on the side.

If portion sizes are large, divide the dish to share with family and friends or have the server prepare half of the portion on the side to take home. If this is done beforehand, you are less likely to eat out of the to-go box.

You can also order a side dish or an appetizer-sized portion instead of a regular entree for smaller portions. If you are thinking about dessert, you could half a portion to share with someone or ask for a side of fresh fruit, sherbet or even angel food cake topped with fresh fruit.

5. Pack healthy snacks for long drives

When you are hungry on the road, it can be tempting to stop for something quick. Instead, pack simple and healthy ready-to-eat snacks such as fruit, sliced vegetables with hummus, low-fat string cheese, protein bars, hard-boiled eggs, popcorn, dry-roasted edamame or chickpeas, nuts and seeds or beef jerky.

Download the EatFit app to help navigate restaurants throughout Louisiana that have healthier, whole-grain options.

-- For information on this or other nutrition topics, contact Becky B. Gautreaux, area nutrition agent at the Terrebonne Parish LSU AgCenter office, 521 Legion Ave., Houma. She can be reached at 873-6495 or bgautreaux@agcenter.lsu.edu. Written with Lauren Bernard, Nicholls State University dietetic intern. Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ChooseMyPlate.gov.