How to Eat Healthy When Dining Out

place settingDining out with family and friends has become a regular part of American culture. Therefore, it’s hard to avoid going out to restaurants to eat. So what do you do if you are trying to manage your weight? Restaurants often give huge portion sizes with a very large caloric price tag. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to eat healthily when dining out.

1. Choose the restaurant wisely
If you go into a restaurant without any forethought, you’ll be more susceptible to a 1000 or 2000-calorie meal. Avoid “all-you-can-eat” places and choose a place with a varied menu so that it is more likely you will find something healthy and tasty.

2. Do some prep work
Look up the restaurant’s menu online and decide what you want to order before leaving the house. Eat a small, healthy snack before leaving to avoid over-eating, and bring your own low-calorie salad dressings, crackers or other condiments. You don’t always have to rely on what the restaurant has on hand.

3. Decipher the menu jargon
Make sure you know what the words on the menu mean to prevent any accidental bad choices.

Higher in Fat

Lower in Fat

Higher in Sodium

Au gratin In a Tomato Sauce In Broth
In a Cheese Sauce In a Marina Sauce With Cocktail Sauce
In a Cream Sauce Vinaigrette dressings With Creole Sauce
In an Alfredo Sauce Baked Added MSG
In a Pastry Crust Broiled With Soy Sauce
With Mayonnaise Grilled With Feta Cheese
Béarnaise Poached Barbecued
Hollandaise Roasted Cured
Crispy/Fried Steamed Marinated
Breaded or Buttered Stir-fried Pickled
Scalloped Smoked

4. Don’t order straight from the menu
Substitute steamed vegetables for other high calorie sides, such as French fries; ask for your dips on the side; for less oil or butter during cooking; egg whites instead of whole eggs; grilled instead of fried; or any other action to help make the dish healthier.

5. Be wary of appetizers
Often appetizers come in very large portions and can be more than 1,000 calories if you eat it by yourself. Try to avoid anything fried or breaded, and be wary of any item that comes with a dip. A broth-based soup can be a great low-calorie starter, or you can try fruit, steamed seafood or smoked salmon. Remember: Your appetizer doesn’t have to come from the “appetizer” section of the menu. Try ordering from the soups, salads or side order sections.

6. Choose an entrée with lean meats and vegetables
When choosing an entrée, try to stick with lean meats, such as fish, chicken or turkey. If you’re ordering pasta, make sure to order a dish that has vegetables and/or lean protein in it, along with marinara sauce instead of high-fat Alfredo sauce. To cut back on portion sizes, ask the server to box half of the entrée before even serving it.

7. Be careful with your beverage selection
A couple of beers, a regular soda or sweetened drinks can really tack on calories. Water, unsweetened tea, black coffee or diet soda are your best options for zero/low calorie beverages.

8. What about desserts?
Try a side order of your favorite fruit or have frozen yogurt instead of ice cream. If you’d really like to indulge, look for the “shot-glass” portion size or split your dessert with a friend or two. You can also ask your server for suggestions. Most servers know the lower calorie options and whether or not a dessert can be modified to be a healthier choice.

Last Updated: January 13, 2022

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About Author: Adam Schafer, MS, RD, LDN

Adam Schafer is a registered dietitian at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford, Ill. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Food, Nutrition and Dietetics from Illinois State University in Normal, Ill., and his Master of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. In his free time.

Adam enjoys any type of exercising, whether indoors or outdoors, taking fitness classes, lifting weights or doing cardio. He also enjoys reading books and playing a variety of sports, including soccer, basketball and backyard activities such as bags, bocce ball and badminton.

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Categories: Diet & Exercise