In recent decades, the amount of food that Americans eat away from home has risen from 18 to 33 percent.

At the same time, restaurant meals with oversized portions have become a major contributor to the country's obesity epidemic. While blame is largely on fast food restaurants, these are not the only restaurants offering larger portions.

A study conducted at Tufts University found that off-channel restaurant meals averaged 1,200 calories, about the same as those offered by major chains. And meals from three of the most popular kitchens – American, Italian and Chinese – add up to more than 1,500 calories.

With 92% of restaurant meals providing more calories than needed in one sitting, it's easy enough to gain weight.

Half of American restaurants are individual establishments or part of a chain that is small enough to not be required to provide nutritional information – such as calories – to allow you to make wise choices.

Here are the steps you can take.

First of all, beware of gifts, such as the tasty bites of the chef presented at the seat, as well as the bottomless bread basket. Dipping bread in olive oil rather than butter removes saturated fat, but not calories; so avoid them if you want to spend those calories elsewhere.

Ask about cooking and avoid portion-size ingredients like cheese, butter and cream. Better yet, ask what you can order without grease or breadcrumbs.

The preparation can make even low-calorie vegetables less virtuous. Baking or steaming is always better than sauteed and fried.

Finally, balance your meals in the restaurant by eating healthier meals at home. If you often eat at the restaurant, you may want to make your kitchen an area without snacks and desserts.nmnm