For many people, eating out is a way to relax and socialize. But if you are watching your weight or just are concerned with healthy eating, dining out can be a challenge. The good news is that usually there are healthier options at every restaurant, even at fast-food places. By following some simple guidelines, you can enjoy eating out and still have a healthy diet.
- Plan ahead. Before you go out to eat, think about where you will eat and what you will select. It will be much easier to make healthy choices if you have already decided what you will order.
- Try not to arrive at the restaurant overly hungry. It's harder to make healthy food choices when you get too hungry.
- Think about your portions. Restaurants often serve portions that are enough to feed two or three people. To help you avoid overeating, order smaller portions, split a meal with someone else, or save part of your meal for later.
- Choose menu items that contain fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Restaurant meals are often low in these things. By adding these foods, you can have a balanced meal.
- When you travel, you are often forced to eat out at every meal. So bring snacks that pack well, such as dried fruit, pretzels, and nuts. Flying can trigger dehydration, so drink lots of water. And don't drink a lot of alcohol, because alcohol can also dehydrate you.
How can you make healthy choices when you eat out?
Follow the same guidelines when you eat out that you would if you were eating at home. This doesn't mean that you have to give up ordering dessert. But you may want to order it less often and share it with someone else at your table.
Think about your portions
- Ask for a half-size portion of the meal. Or ask if the restaurant offers lunch-sized portions, which tend to be smaller.
- At fast-food restaurants, choose the smallest-size meal option instead of "super-sizing."
- If you enjoy leftovers, try putting half of your meal in a to-go box. Ask your server to bring the box with your meal, so that you can split the meal before you even take the first bite.
- Try splitting a meal with someone else at your table.
- Avoid all-you-can-eat menu options and buffet-style restaurants. Unlimited refills of soup or pasta may sound like a good deal, but they can make it easier to overeat.
Make your meals lower in fat
- Before you order, find out how the food is prepared. Foods that are broiled, poached, grilled, baked, or steamed tend to be lower in fat than foods that are fried. Limit foods that are breaded or that come with cream sauce or gravy.
- Ask to have butter, sour cream, gravy, and sauces served on the side. This will allow you to control how much you use.
- Choose reduced-fat salad dressings. Or choose oil-and-vinegar salad dressings instead of creamy dressings.
- Order hamburgers and sandwiches without the high-fat extras, such as cheese and bacon.
- Choose leaner deli meats such as turkey or roast beef rather than salami or bologna.
- If you want dessert, look for low-fat frozen yogurt, sorbet, fruit ice, or sherbet.
Add fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Order extra vegetables on pizzas and sandwiches.
- Substitute vegetables or a baked potato for french fries. At fast-food restaurants, ask if you can have a salad or fruit instead of french fries.
- Try vegetarian menu options. Ethnic restaurants, such as Indian, Thai, or Japanese restaurants, often have a wide variety of vegetarian choices.
- Ask for brown rice and whole-grain pasta instead of white rice and pasta. Pick whole-grain bread and tortillas.
Choose your beverages carefully
- Opt for water instead of sugar-sweetened soft drinks. If you don't like plain water, try other sugar-free or low-calorie beverages, such as fruit-flavored sparkling water or unsweetened iced tea.
- Remember that alcoholic drinks can have a lot of calories. A large cocktail, such as a margarita, can have as many calories as your main course.
Current as of: March 1, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator