WELLNESS

6 Ways to Stay Healthy When Eating Out

by JOANNA LI, RD

black pug looking longingly at a pie

Eating out is core to many of our social lives. But when you’re trying to stick to a diet, the many temptations and smells surrounding you in a restaurant can make it hard to stick to your plan. Luckily, enjoying a meal at a restaurant doesn’t mean you have to give up your healthy habits. Here are some ways to help you stay on track with your health goals when you eat out.

Prepare ahead of time for healthy dishes

Believe it or not, there are healthy dishes at restaurants. And a little prep work can help you find healthy eating out options. Reading over the menu before going to the restaurant will give you more time to explore your options carefully. This way, you’ll be prepared to choose from a couple of healthy dishes when you order. Most chain restaurants will even have their nutrition information on their website. Planning is one of the keys to maintaining a healthy diet, whether you’re at home or out. 

top down view of a sunny brunch meal with hand reaching for coffee

Know your healthy menu lingo

When reading the menu, look for these words:

  • Baked
  • Grilled
  • Roasted
  • Light
  • Boiled
  • Steamed
  • Poached

These are usually items that are not cooked in a lot of oil or butter. Steer clear of the words fried, buttered, pan-fried, au gratin, creamed, crispy. These items are usually prepared with a lot of fat.

view through window of woman asking questions to a waiter in a restaurant

Ask your server for some options

Enlist your server to help you in your healthy eating journey. You can say something along the lines of, “What would you recommend if I am looking for something lighter?” or “What are some of the healthier items on your menu?”

If your entree comes with sides, don’t be afraid to ask the server if you can swap the fries for a baked potato, steamed or roasted vegetables, or a side salad. In some cases, they may even be able to double the vegetables and replace the potatoes altogether.

When you order dishes that come with sauces or dressings, ask for them on the side so you can control how much you want to add.

Be the first to order

If you did your prep work, you probably already have your healthy dish choice in your head. But what happens if your friend orders first and asks for the crispy chicken or pasta dish.  Do you reconsider your meal choice or stick with it? Your eating behaviors are highly influenced by those around you so to avoid temptation, place your order first!

Hold the bread 

While bread can certainly be part of a healthy diet, asking the server to hold the bread will leave room for more nutrient-dense foods. If you want something to munch on while you wait, start with a salad to fill up on leafy greens. 

hand holding up ice cream cone on a busy street

Choose a treat for the night

Dining out should be an enjoyable experience! Instead of feeling like you either have to deny yourself or overeat, try picking one treat. Whether it’s an appetizer, warm bread with butter, a drink, or dessert, truly savor every bite. However, remember that you only should stick with one indulgence, so be choosy! 

Next time you are dining out, try these tips to make healthier choices. You can still enjoy a meal out while staying healthy.

About the author

Joanna Li, RD, is a Texas-based registered dietitian. She graduated from New York University with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition & Dietetics and completed her dietetic internship at Massachusetts General Hospital. She spent most of her career in community nutrition and public health, providing nutrition education to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, and their children up to 5 years old. She is currently pursuing her Master’s in Public Health. When she is not working or studying, you can find her taking a spin class, trying new restaurants, and testing recipes in the kitchen.