OSF Saint Francis Medical Center

Peoria, Illinois

Healthy Dining Decisions

Since dining out is such a big part of our lives, making healthy choices at restaurants is very important. The good news is that there are healthier options at almost all places to eat, even fast-food.  Check out these tips, and the video at the bottom of the page to learn more.

Quick tips for dining out:

  • Have a plan: If you know ahead of time you are going out to eat, plan to have lighter meals during the day, but don't skip meals!  Check online or on a phone app before going. Use the nutrition information available with these tools to find menu items that are lower in fat, calories, and sodium.
  • Look for key words: Grilled, baked, broiled, steamed, roasted or stir-fried are often lower in fat. Avoid foods described as fried, crispy, breaded, creamy, alfredo, escalloped and au gratin.
  • Choose a variety: Try to include whole grains, lean protein, fruits, and vegetables if available.
  • Watch your portions: Split one entrée with a dining partner or put half of a meal in a take-home box as soon as the food is served.  Eat slowly since it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to know you are full.
  • Ask questions and make special requests: Ask that high calorie extras like salad dressing, butter, sour cream, gravy, cheese and other toppings be on-the-side so you can limit the amount. Request salt not be added to your food. Turn down refills on the bread basket or chips and salsa.


  • Order water, unsweetened tea, low fat or fat-free milk, diet soda, or club soda with lemon
  • Drink coffee with low fat milk and/or calorie free sweetener
  • Limit regular sodas, sweetened teas, and alcohol to avoid drinking extra calories.

Breakfast and Snacks:

  • Try oatmeal or a yogurt parfait at fast food places for a quick and healthier breakfast option
  • Use “light” bagel spreads and spread thinly on the bagel - “light” is not calorie free
  • Choose English muffins, small plain bagels, or whole grain toast instead of donuts, croissants, or biscuits.  Some places even have whole grain versions available, just ask
  • Go with ham, egg, and cheese on breakfast sandwiches - skip the bacon or sausage
  • Order egg whites or egg substitutes when available
  • Remember that “low-fat,” “fat-free”, and “sugar-free” do not mean zero calories

Fast Food:

  • Practice portion control by ordering “regular,” “small,” “junior,” or “single” sizes
  • Order less food at the beginning; you can always go back for more if still hungry
  • Try ketchup, mustard, or barbecue sauce instead of mayonnaise-based spreads
  • Split a small order of fries or even substitute with fresh fruit or side salad if available


  • Avoid going to buffets as they encourage over eating
  • Do not arrive at the buffet extra hungry
  • Start with a salad of dark leafy greens, other vegetables, and a light dressing
  • Take only one trip to the buffet line, use only one plate, and fill half your plate with vegetables 
  • Remember that fresh fruit is always available for dessert - find it at the salad bar

Family Restaurants:

  • Pick and choose from salads, soups, and sides to create a healthy meal
  • Ask for salad dressing on the side and request no high-fat salad toppers, such as cheese or croutons
  • Limit sides high in fat such as macaroni and cheese or fried potatoes. Choose fresh fruit, applesauce, steamed or cooked vegetables like broccoli or carrots
  • Select stir-fried, grilled, or baked entrees instead of fried or breaded
  • Choose a lean meat such as fish, sirloin, or skinless chicken breast

Sandwich, Salads, and Soup:

  • Keep the sodium intake low by saying no to pickles, olives, BBQ and buffalo sauces added on your sandwich
  • Try a side salad, broth-based soup, baked chips, or pretzels instead of potato chips
  • Order a smaller sub or lettuce wrapped sandwich or have a large sub cut in half, save the other portion for later
  • Choose light or fat-free salad dressings, mustard, or vinegar instead of mayonnaise or oil
  • Request less meat and more lettuce, onions, tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables
  • Order lean luncheon meats such as turkey or chicken instead of mayonnaise-based tuna or egg salads. Limit or avoid salami, bologna, pepperoni and bacon


  • Add healthy toppings such as veggies, pineapple, Canadian bacon, chicken, or ham
  • Reduce not-so-healthy toppings such as extra cheese, pepperoni, sausage, or bacon
  • Ask for thin crust pizza that is light on cheese and heavy on vegetables
  • Limit yourself to only 2 slices of pizza to avoid-over-eating and pair with a side salad

Pasta and Italian:

  • Order a salad with dressing on the side to fill up before eating the entrée 
  • Limit breadsticks and garlic bread as they are often high in fat
  • Try a small or half order of pasta, split a meal, or box up leftovers quickly
  • Order pasta and entrees that include vegetables or include a side of vegetables
  • Avoid cream sauce, creamy cheese sauce, and butter sauce to reduce fat and calories


  • Choose healthier foods like soup, spring rolls, entrées with vegetables, and steamed rice  
  •  Avoid fried appetizers such as egg rolls, crab Rangoon, or fried dumplings
  • Choose meat or seafood that has not been breaded or fried
  • Start with salad and soup
  • Eat family style and order less dishes than the number of people at the table
  • Limit dipping sauces 
  • Use chopsticks to eat slower, stop when full, and take leftovers home for a second meal


  • Choose baked, broiled, or grilled fish instead of battered and fried
  • Select healthier sides, such as plain baked potato, rice, salad, and cooked vegetables
  • Ask the restaurant to hold the butter and sour cream on your potato or order them on the side
  • Use lemon to add flavor to food without adding extra fat or calories
  • Watch out for high-fat items like coleslaw, hush puppies, biscuits, cornbread, and fries


  • Take one handful of tortilla chips and set the basket aside
  • Select items from the a la carte menu to order less, eat less, and save money
  • Limit high-fat items such as guacamole, cheese, and sour cream or order on the side
  • Add flavor with low-calorie items like salsa or pico de gallo
  • Order black or pinto beans instead of refried beans, if possible

Watch this video to learn more!



American Heart Association. (2017, June 20). Dining Out Doesn’t Mean Ditch Your Diet. Retrieved October 26 2021 from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/out-smart/nutrotopm-basicx/

Mayo Clinic (2021, June 25) Nutrition and healthy eating.  Retrieved October 26, 2021 from https:/www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dash-diet/art-20044759.  

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2013, December). Tips For Eating Out. Retrieved October 26, 2021 from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/edudational/healthdisp/pdf/tipsheets/Tips-for-Eating-Out.pdf.

WebMD. (2020). High Cholesterol: Healthy Choices When Eating Out. Retrieved October 26, 2021 fromhttps://www..webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-healthy-eating-out.