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Restaurants can be a minefield for healthy eaters. Here’s how to make better choices.

Whether you’re an avid restaurant-goer or you only visit eating establishments to celebrate a special occasion, it can be difficult to eat healthy when dining out. That’s because many restaurant meals contain more fat, sodium, sugar and calories than the meals you usually make at home. But that doesn’t mean every time you dine out you have to forgo your commitment to healthy eating. The key is to know how to make better choices most of the time, while allowing yourself an occasional indulgence.

Here are 7 tips to help you eat healthier when dining out:
  1. Choose a restaurant that suits you. While you can likely find something to eat at almost any restaurant, it makes it easier to stick to your healthy eating plans when a restaurant offers options that align with your eating style. For example, if you’re trying to limit calories, you may want to avoid an all-you-can-eat buffet. If you’re keeping it low-carb, Italian restaurants may be a challenge. The same goes for Asian restaurants if you’re on a low-sodium diet.
  2. Check the menu before you go. Sometimes you don’t have much time to make a decision about your meal when you’re at the table or you’re distracted. So peruse the menu and make your choice before you leave the house. This limits temptation once you arrive and gives you more time to make an informed choice.
  3. Be a savvy menu reader. Look for leaner protein choices, such as fish or chicken. If you’re hankering for red meat, sirloin or beef tenderloin are leaner options. Load up on vegetables and avoid dishes prepared in cream sauces or topped with loads of cheese. Dishes that are steamed, grilled or broiled are lighter than those that are fried, breaded, sautéed or smothered.
  4. Ask for what you want. Most restaurants accommodate special requests so don’t be afraid to ask. Request sauces or dressings on the side. Ask that less salt or fat be used. Inquire about swapping out sides like French fries with something lighter, like a side salad or steamed vegetable.
  5. Split a dish. Since many restaurant portions are large, consider sharing a dish with a dining partner. Another option is to order an appetizer instead of an entrée. If a portion is more than you want to eat, ask the server to box up half of it before they bring it to the table. This way, you’re not tempted to keep eating past the point of fullness just because it’s sitting there – and you’ll have a tasty meal to enjoy at another time.
  6. Prioritize your wants. Aside from the meal itself, there are many other temptations in a restaurant, starting with the bread basket on the table and cocktails and ending with dessert. Think about what’s most important to you and skip the rest. It can be hard to do, but focusing on the “have to have” items will keep you satisfied without you overindulging.
  7. Give yourself permission to splurge. Dining out is a treat. As long as you don’t do it all the time, it’s okay to allow yourself to indulge once in a while. Just try to eat mindfully, don’t overdo it and enjoy the food, atmosphere and company.

Copyright 2023 © Baldwin Publishing, Inc.  Health eCooks™ is a designated trademark of Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Cook eKitchen™ is a designated trademark of Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein without the express approval of Baldwin Publishing, Inc. is strictly prohibited.

Date Last Reviewed: April 13, 2023

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Jane Schwartz, RDN, CLT

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