Ways to Eat Healthy When Dining Out

Author

Emily Dionne, RD

Emily Dionne, RD

Health Topics
Eating healthy when out to eat

More than 60 percent of Americans eat at least one meal in a restaurant each week. While it can be fun to let someone else handle the cooking and cleaning of a few meals, it can be tough to stick to your nutrition goals when you aren’t preparing your own food.

Here are a few tips to make sure dining out doesn’t negatively affect your health.

Control your appetite. Extreme hunger can cause you to consume a quick 300 calories before even considering the main meal when dining out. If you find yourself with the hungry horrors, try ordering a garden salad or broth-based soup immediately upon sitting down. This can help lessen the desire to devour the entire bread basket or to order a bunch of high calorie appetizers without a second thought. This strategy can also help lead you to choose a healthy entrée more easily, as these items will look more appealing when your appetite has been subdued a bit.

Avoid liquid calories. Sipping a few soft drinks can easily add an extra 500 or so calories (not to mention a few days’ worth of sugar). Limit alcohol—it contains a significant amount of calories and may reduce your resolve to eat healthfully. If you do drink alcohol, alternate every drink with one to two large glasses of water or seltzer.

Watch for red flags. If these words are in the description of a food, avoid them:

  • fried
  • battered
  • creamy
  • cream sauce
  • scalloped
  • au gratin
  • butter sauce
  • cheesy
  • Alfredo

These are all adjectives for very high fat and lots of calories. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It will help avoid surprises like fatty sauces or deep fried foods, when you were expecting a more healthy option.

Be the first to order. When out with family and friends, ordering last can leave you susceptible to the influence of others. For instance, if you’re planning to order a grilled chicken and veggie entrée but everyone before you orders a burger and fries, you may very likely change your mind.

Go lean. When ordering something with animal protein, choose lean—fish, chicken and turkey (no skin), boneless pork, and lean cuts of meat, all baked, grilled, dry-sautéed, broiled, poached, or steamed. Not fried.

Keep a healthy plate. Whether you are dining at home, ordering in, or dining out, follow the guidelines of a healthy plate:

  • 1/4 of the meal should include lean protein;
  • 1/4 should include healthy, complex carbohydrates like whole grains;
  • At least 1/2 of the meal should be vegetables (and fruit when possible, depending on the dish).


Carefully accessorize. Avoid cream-based salad dressings, because low-fat versions of these are usually not available. Choose a light vinaigrette or simply oil and vinegar. Request sauces and condiments on the side, this way you’ll be better aware of how much you use. For a kick of spice, try a little salsa atop a baked potato instead of sour cream, butter, cheese, and bacon. Always ask your server to hold the butter on your veggies, even if the menu doesn’t disclose it as part of the dish. Add a little on your own if you’d like, doing so will still result in a lot less saturated fat and calories than when already added without your knowledge.

Salads aren’t always the solution. Surprisingly, some salads, such as a Cobb Salad, can easily contain more than 500 calories. Here’s what to do: identify all the components of the salad that contribute to its high calorie content such as bacon, cheese, egg, blue cheese, avocado, walnuts, creamy dressing, etc. Keep a few but ditch the rest! A custom ordered Cobb salad with avocado, walnuts, egg, and light dressing on the side (with no cheeses, bacon, or creamy dressing) is a simple way to dine out successfully.

Go home for dessert. By the time you get there, you may not want it anymore.