A male friend of mine was agonizing about where to take his sweetheart to dinner for Valentine's Day. I asked a few questions and found out that she doesn't really like fancy restaurants and neither does he. Why do so many dates/holidays/special occasions revolve around fancy restaurants, or any restaurant for that matter? Given the sorry state of most menu options, this tradition is something that our clients need to get away from.

My recommendation to him was to plan a healthy picnic. This is one of many wonderful ways to enjoy a meal and he could control the nutrition and get pleasure from the environment (and not to stray too far from my area of expertise, but it was Valentine's Day: cooking for their significant other will likely score your clients some points in the romance department). Plus, they could throw a walk in before and/or after the meal.

Encourage your clients to find new ways to break from the restaurant habit and take control of their food choices. Ask your clients, "When was the last time you had a picnic?" and remind them that eating in front of the TV does NOT qualify! Planning a picnic is easy, a great way to spend a spring afternoon and won't sabotage their program. If they need suggestions for a simple menu, here's what you can offer:

Sparkling mineral water with a wedge of orange

A rainbow of crudite w/ hummus as the dip

Turkey breast roll-ups: turkey slices rolled up with cucumber, sundried tomato and goat cheese inside(delicious and not messy)

Fresh berries, dark chocolate chips and slivered almonds

Pack it all up in a cooler. Include a big blanket, a pretty table cloth and napkins and utensils.

This is one of my favorite ways to enjoy a sunset at the beach, along with a stroll down the beach. If your clients aren't feeling like doing this much work, they can always hit their local gourmet grocery or Whole Foods and pick up a variety of yummy healthy stuff. Or, if you and your clients are still holed up and watching the snow pile up outside, there are plenty of other alternatives they can consider - an indoor picnic in the living room or seek out exotic (but healthy) recipes they wouldn't normally try. Do the shopping together beforehand. Afterwards, bundle up and go out to build a snowman. The bottom line, encourage them to think outside the restaurant; find ways to make a meal special that allows them to control what they are eating and create an environment that takes the focus OFF of food and onto the surroundings and a great experience.

JJ Virgin, CNS, CHFI, is a speaker, author and media personality specializing in overcoming weightloss resistance. She is the president of the National Association of Nutrition Professionals, author of Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy, co-star of TLC's new reality series, Freaky Eaters and runs a busy virtual wellness website, www.jjvirgin.com.

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