(Health.com) -- It's no secret that restaurant dishes are loaded with hidden ingredients and calories. That's why home-cooked meals are a good idea for anyone watching their weight.
Conquering the kitchen is a great first step, but if you haven't eaten out in months and the scale still won't budge, it might be time to take a closer look at your cooking habits. Below, a few mistakes that could be derailing your weight-loss plans.
Using too much oil
Yes, olive oil is a "good" fat. But the kitchen staple is also crazy-dense calorie wise -- a single tablespoon clocks in at 120 calories.
That may not sound like a lot, but if you're not paying attention, it's easy to use as much as three times that amount. Sticking to that single tablespoon allowance can be especially hard with vegetables, since they tend to absorb oil quickly. A helpful trick? Lightly steam your veggies (or protein) to cook them through before adding them to a stir-fry .
Estimating serving sizes
We all know the importance of portion control, but at the end of a long day, taking the time to measure each ingredient out can seem painfully time consuming. Instead, we eyeball serving sizes -- a practice that could potentially add hundreds of hidden calories to an otherwise healthy meal.
Avoid paying the price for weeknight laziness by taking the time to really learn what healthy portions of grains, fish and produce look like.
Being a slave to the recipe
If you lack confidence in the kitchen, it's tempting to follow recipes to a T. But by blindly sticking to the ingredient list, you're missing out on valuable opportunities to make healthy tweaks.
For example, if a recipe calls for one cup of cream, try substituting half of that with Greek yogurt, or even pureed avocado. This simple swap cuts calories and fat without sacrificing on texture or taste. (Try these other seven healthier baking swaps.)
Snacking while you prep
Resisting the urge to taste-test while prepping your food can seem impossible, especially when you're starving. And while a little snacking never killed anyone, a handful of walnuts here and a slice of avocado there can really add up.
To avoid ruining your appetite (and your meal), try chewing gum or sipping a glass of sparkling water while you cook.
Still munching? Time for some tough love: for every bite you take, put a little less on your plate.
Leaving leftovers up for grabs
Picture this: dinner was delicious, you're comfortably full and you know you should be satisfied. That is, until you go to do the dishes, and the pot of pasta on the stove starts calling your name.
Pre-empt the impulse to go in for a second helping by putting leftovers away as soon as possible. In this case, that old adage holds true -- out of sight, out of mind.
This article originally appeared on Health.com.
Copyright Health Magazine 2011