Your Go-To Guide for How to Order Healthy Restaurant Entrees

Menu & Cutlery on A Restaurant TableIn an earlier post, I gave a quick step-by-step guide on how to dine out responsibly. This post will focus specifically on choosing healthy entrees at restaurants because the entrée is the choice that can either make or break your calorie budget.


When choosing the meat portion of your entrée, be familiar with fatty and lean meats.

  • Fish is almost always a lean choice with healthy fats as long as it is not fried.
  • Chicken and turkey are lean, especially when the skin and fat is removed, and white meat is leaner than dark meat.
  • Pork dishes such as pork chops can be a good, lean option. Avoid sausage, bacon and ribs.
  • Ground beef or red meat should be eaten with caution due to the large portion sizes at restaurants. Your best options are to go with fish, chicken or turkey.


If ordering pasta dishes, make sure to order ones that have vegetables and/or lean protein in them, along with marinara sauce instead of high-fat Alfredo sauce.

Portion Sizes

To cut back on portion sizes, ask the server to box half of the entrée before even serving it.

Watch Out for Sodium

Ask that your foods be prepared without added salt or fat, and use the pepper mill or bring your own no-salt seasoning packets to spice up your food.

Take Your Time

Eat slowly, savor the taste of your food and enjoy the conversation with friends and family. It takes approximately 20 minutes for your mind to realize it is full. If you normally eat your food in less than 20 minutes, you will be likely to overeat because your mind couldn’t signal to you that you were full before that dessert.

Understand Food Lingo

Watching for certain keywords will also help you make better choices. Here is a quick cheat-sheet to help you decipher some of the most common restaurant dishes:

Restaurant Type

Best Choices

Worst Choices

Chinese Stir-fried; steamed; roasted; broth-based soups; vegetables with shrimp, chicken, tofu or fish; brown rice Deep-fried (breaded, crispy); fried wontons, egg rolls, or noodles; fried rice
Italian Marinara, wine sauce, vegetables, lean, garden salads with dressings on the side, minestrone soup, chicken or veal masala, cacciatore Alfredo, carbonara or cream sauces; pancetta; prosciutto; cheese or cheese sauces; buttered garlic bread; breaded and fried parmigiana dishes
Mexican Mole sauce, salsa, soft tortillas, low-fat soups (gazpacho or black bean), fruit, fajitas Cheese, sour cream, fried tortillas, guacamole, cheese quesadillas, chimichangas, chili rellenos, fried ice cream
American Sautéed; grilled; mustard; entrees with non-starchy vegetables on the side; baked fish, chicken, or turkey entrees Bacon, fried, cheese, sausage, mayonnaise, secret sauce, limit beef or red meat entrees
French Blackened, poached Au gratin, butter, hollandaise

Many restaurants have also made healthy eating easier by signifying low-calorie options on their menu. If the restaurant you are visiting does not offer a special healthy menu, lighten-up your meal by avoiding cheesy, creamy dishes.  Ask that mayonnaise, butter and other heavy additions be left off or on the side.

Keep these tips in mind the next time you dine out, and you’ll be more likely to make the healthier choice.

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