How to Eat Healthy While Dining Out

If a reservation is your favorite thing to make for dinner, but you don’t want to leave your healthy eating habits at home, be prepared before you head out. When you scan a restaurant menu’s nutritional info, you may be astonished. Salads with more calories than burgers, entrees jam-packed with sodium, and over 1000 calories in almost every meal—what’s a healthy eater to do?

No worries. If you’re smart about it, you can have your cake and eat it, too—with portion control. Here’s how to stay healthy:

  • Don’t think of the bread basket as bottomless. If you absolutely can’t resist, take a piece and then ask the waiter to take it away. Substitute oil and vinegar for butter.
  • Rather than a giant plate of creamy pasta alfredo, choose a well-balanced meal, which includes a lean protein, fruits or vegetables and a whole-grain. Don’t be afraid to substitute fries or mashed potatoes for a side of steamed veggies. Or try a new veggie that you’ve never prepared at home, like creamy mashed cauliflower.
  • Beware of buzz words. Fried, breaded, creamy, crispy, cheesy, braised, rich, au gratin—these are all most likely indicators of a high-calorie meal. Grilled, roasted, steamed, baked and broiled likely imply a lower calorie dish.
  • Value meals and combos can be appealing, but order a la carte to eliminate wasted calories. Yes, it may only be 50 cents extra to add on a soda, but if you wanted water in the first place, you’re still wasting money and calories.
  • Protein fills you up, so when you hit the salad bar, get the most bang for your buck by choosing protein-rich foods like beans, tofu, grilled chicken, hard-boiled eggs or water-packed tuna. Order dressing on the side and avoid creamy choices, which have around 8 grams of fat per tablespoon.
  • Your waiter is there to provide customer service, so don’t be afraid to ask how a meal is prepared, what ingredients are used and if there are substitutions available.
  • It seems like portions at restaurants keep getting bigger. One way to curtail overeating is to ask for a to-go box with your meal and immediately pack away half of it for lunch tomorrow. Never feel pressured to clear your plate. Keep an insulated bag in your trunk so leftovers are always ready for the ride home.

One final tip: If you have a sweet tooth, share dessert with the rest of the table or indulge in a small treat. Many restaurants now offer “shot glass-sized” desserts for those who want a bite (literally) of sweetness after their meal.