Weight-loss - eating out; Healthy diet - eating out; Obesity - eating out
Basic Ground Rules for Eating Out
Look for and choose:
- Salads with dressing on the side
- Vegetable side dishes
- Foods that are broiled, grilled, steamed, poached, roasted, or baked
- Chicken, turkey, seafood, or lean meats
Treat yourself only once in a while to:
- Anything creamy, fried, crispy, breaded, battered, or cheesy
- Sauces or soups with lots of butter, cream, or cheese
- Thick or creamy salad dressings
- Most casserole dishes
A few easy tips to keep the calorie count down include:
- If you were serving yourself a healthy meal at home, half of your plate would be covered in green vegetables; if your entrée does not come with a vegetable, order one on the side so you can still make a healthy plate.
- Avoid mindlessly eating foods such as rolls and bread just because they are on the table. You can ask the server to take these foods off the table.
- Split a meal with someone, or ask for a take-out box and take half of your meal home.
- Order the "lunch size" of any food rather than the "dinner size."
- Order healthy appetizers rather than an entree.
- Start with a small salad or broth-based soup as an appetizer.
- Order the dressing for your salad on the side so you can control how much of it you use.
- Drink water, unsweetened tea, diet drinks, or low-fat milk. Limit fluids that have empty calories, such as sodas.
- Limit how much alcohol you have with meals. Wine is lower in calories than frozen drinks or mixed cocktails that have juice in them.
- Skip your dessert or share it with another person.
Try these tips to limit calories when eating in fast food restaurants:
- Choose a place that broils or grills hamburgers, fish, and chicken for their sandwiches.
- Order your sandwich without cheese, mayo or "special sauce."
- Order only a sandwich. Avoid ordering the value or combo meal unless the restaurant offers healthy sides such as apple slices or a side salad.
- Whether it is a sandwich, milkshake, or french fries, stay away from large sizes.
- Order a salad instead of french fries.
- Limit ketchup, barbeque sauce, and other condiments, as they often contain hidden sugars.
- Pizza is OK but limit yourself to only one or two slices. Choose vegetable toppings such as peppers or spinach instead of sausage or pepperoni. Add a salad to your meal.
Healthy Eating at All Types of Restaurants
Sandwich restaurants or deli counters allow you to better manage what you eat:
- Choose low- fat turkey, chicken, or ham. Most cold-cuts are high in sodium.
- Be mindful of tuna and chicken salads which are often made with lots of high-calorie mayonnaise.
- Replace extra meat and cheese with vegetables, such as peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, and spinach.
- Ask for an open-faced sandwich. Ask for whole-grain bread rather than white bread.
- Replace high calorie condiments like mayonnaise or creamy salad dressings with mustard or a small amount of olive oil and vinegar. Ask that your bread be grilled or toasted without added butter.
Chinese restaurants offer healthy choices:
- Most deep fried options are high in calories. Instead, choose dishes that are steamed without added oil or sugar.
- Limit dishes made with sweet and sour, hoisin, gravy, or other heavy sauces, which are often high in calories.
- Choose low-fat dishes that are lightly stir-fried, such as brown rice and Chinese vegetables with seafood, chicken, or bean curd (tofu).
- Order a side of steamed vegetables to pair with your noodle or rice dish.
- Some healthy choices include wonton soup, chicken skewer, and moo goo gai pan.
- Select foods that have chickpeas or lentils, vegetables, lean protein, and sauces made from yogurt.
- Good choices include mulligatawny soup, tandoori chicken, chicken tikka, kebabs, whole-wheat naan bread, and lassi.
- Limit fried foods, creamy curry sauces, cream sauces such as Korma or Makhani, and foods made with coconut milk or a clarified butter call ghee.
- Pasta dishes with a red or marinara sauce are lower in calories and saturated fat than sauces made with cream, butter, cheese, or pesto.
- Look for the word primavera, which means that the menu item contains vegetables and will not include creamy sauce. Order dishes with seafood, grilled meat, fish, chicken, or vegetables.
- Limit lasagna, antipasto, alfredo sauce, and garlic bread.
- Limit fried or breaded dishes like chicken and eggplant parmesan or parmigiana.
- Watch out for large servings of pasta. Pair your pasta with a side salad so your meal is more balanced.
Mexican or Southwestern restaurants:
- Choose foods that are not fried and have only a small amount of cheese.
- Guacamole is a healthier choice than sour cream, but be careful to not eat too large of a portion.
- Good choices include gazpacho, chicken with brown rice, rice and black beans, and items that are baked or grilled.
- Limit nachos, chips, and quesadillas.
Family restaurants and pub food:
- Stick with grilled chicken and meats, or a pot roast or meatloaf.
- Limit foods, even vegetables, that are fried, breaded, au gratin (cheesy), or creamy. Order a small or medium-sized baked potato with a touch of butter or low-fat sour cream rather than french fries or mashed potatoes.
- Salads are a great idea, but avoid creamy dressings, along with toppings such as cheese or bacon. Ask for your dressing on the side so you can control how much you eat.
- Clear broth soups are most often lower in calories. Avoid thicker soups with cream or cheese in them.
- Review the tips above in the section about sandwich restaurants and deli counters.
- Watch out for larger portion sizes.
American Heart Association website. Dining out doesn't mean ditch your diet.
Maratos-Filer E. Obesity. In Melmed S, Auchus RJ, Goldfine AB, Koenig RJ, Rosen CJ, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 14th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 40.
US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th ed.
Last reviewed on: 8/20/2020
Reviewed by: Meagan Bridges, RD, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.