Are you looking for healthy ways to avoid the trap of consuming more calories, fat, sodium, and sugar when making restaurant food choices? Read on for expert advice for healthy dining out options.
Making healthy restaurant food choices
Do you dine out more than a few times a week? If so, it is important to take charge of what you choose so you don't regret the excess calories. As you probably know, most restaurants pride themselves on generous portions. In fact, studies show that meals consumed in restaurants are not only higher in calories than home-cooked meals but usually contain more saturated fat and sodium, with less calcium, iron, and fiber.
Restaurant meals don't have to be loaded in excess if you use some of these strategies to make healthy food choices.
1. Plan ahead
Try not to go to a restaurant overly hungry. Having a light snack can help prevent overeating.
Optimally, find the restaurant nutrition information online before you go. If the nutrition information is not available, look at the menu and find similar items on the MyNetDiary tracker. You can learn things such as a half sandwich will fit within your calorie goal, or choosing a side of fruit instead of fries saves you 200 calories.
You can plan how your meal choices will fit into your overall daily calorie and nutrient budget. Perhaps strategize to eat lighter the rest of the day.
You could log your restaurant food choices in advance of going out to commit to sticking with those healthy decisions.
2. Enjoy the restaurant experience, not just the food
Take in the entire restaurant experience beyond the food. Enjoy the fact that someone prepared and served your food and enjoy the company of others in a relaxed, pleasant environment.
Eat mindfully, savoring the food.
Another secret for preventing overeating--put your utensil down between bites to enjoy your company and surroundings.
Move the bread or chip basket out of arm's reach and try to sit farther away from any buffets.
3. Seek out vegetables and fruits
Order a salad or a broth-based vegetable soup first.
If at a salad bar, fill your plate with at least three different colors of veggies. A colorful meal gives you a powerhouse of nutrients.
Add vegetables like tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, and cucumbers to sandwiches.
Ask for a side salad or fruit instead of fries with your sandwich.
Request two steamed vegetable servings to replace the starch when you order an entree.
4. Trim the hidden calories
Ask questions about your menu choice. Is the bun buttered? Is there mayonnaise or sauce automatically added? These extras can rack up calories in a hurry!
Request that dressings, sauces, and condiments be served on the side, so you can control the amount you add. Think of this - many restaurants use large brushes to butter the toast. Can you imagine the calories?
Order grilled, baked, steamed, or broiled items instead of fried, breaded, creamed, or sauced.
5. Make smart beverage choices
Don't blow the calorie budget with your beverage choice. For example, a large sweet tea at Whataburger has 414 calories!
Automatically request water at the start. Other light beverage options are unsweetened tea, seltzer, or sparkling water. Ask for a citrus wedge or splash of juice for a hint of flavor.
If ordering alcohol, choose a 12-ounce light beer, wine, or spirits on the rocks or in club soda or tonic water.
6. Finish your meal with a light choice
A soothing cup of herbal tea or coffee makes a perfect conclusion to your meal instead of a decadent dessert.
If you need a little sweet, split a dessert with the whole table. Also, many restaurants now offer mini desserts or fruit for a lighter end to the meal.
Use the mint or chocolate the restaurant offers as the perfect little sweet to top off your meal.
7. Take home leftovers and downsize your choices
Ask for a take-out container. Split your meal in half and plan to enjoy a bonus meal the next day.
Splitting an entree with another person is another great way to trim the restaurant portions.
Order a salad or appetizer portion of food instead of a main entree.
Soup-salad-half-sandwich combos offer a lighter lunch alternative.
Quick-look chart of healthy restaurant food choices for different cuisines
Next time you dine out, use this quick-look chart of our tips applicable to common restaurant cuisines.
Common Restaurant Cuisines
Get lots of veggies on an omelet.
Request toast unbuttered or skip it.
Opt for reduced-fat coffee drinks or plain coffee or tea.
Request syrups and butter on the side.
Skip fatty meats, cheeses, and gravies.
Load up on veggies and greens.
Choose lighter salad dressings, or a lemon wedge, vinegar, and black pepper.
Get fresh fruit for dessert.
Have an open-faced sandwich.
Limit the cheese and spreads.
Load up on veggies, pickles, and peppers.
Skip the chips. Ask for fruit or salad instead.
Sushi and broth-based soups are light.
Ask for low-sodium soy sauce.
Choose steamed or grilled items. Skip the fried entrees.
Choose brown rice and eat half.
Get a smaller sandwich or opt for lean protein on a salad.
Choose grilled items.
Split small fries. Drink water.
Choose a la carte items instead of a platter.
Plan to take half home.
Avoid fried and smothered items.
Remove chip basket from table.
Load up on salsa, lettuce, tomato instead of sour cream, guacamole, and cheese.
Ask for sauces and condiments on the side.
Choose tomato and broth-based sauces instead of cream sauces.
Get thin crust pizza, not thick.
Load up on veggies.
Order an appetizer instead of an entree.
Choose fish or grilled chicken instead of fatty meats.
Plan to take half home or split.
Choose grilled or broiled fish or shellfish.
Avoid fried fish and fried sides.
Ask for light on oils and butter.
Get steamed veggies instead of a starchy side.
Choose smaller sizes of lean cuts of beef (petite filet), pork, or poultry. Go easy on the sauces.
Get a plain baked potato and add a small amount of toppings.
Fill up on a large salad with salad dressing on the side.