Healthy Eating: Making Healthy Choices When You Eat Out
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
Try not to arrive at the restaurant overly hungry. It's
harder to make healthy food choices when you get too hungry.
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
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.
When possible, plan
ahead. Before you get to the restaurant, think about how you can make the meal
Try to pick restaurants where the food is made
to order, instead of choosing fast-food or buffet-style restaurants. This will
allow you to ask for food to be prepared in a healthier way. For example, you
can ask to have sauces and gravy served on the side.
restaurants that offer healthier menu choices. Look for fast-food restaurants
that let you order a side salad and milk or water instead of french fries and a
soft drink with meals. Another idea is to look for restaurants that have
heart-healthy items marked on their menus, and choose those whenever you
If you know that you will be eating out, try to make wise
choices for the rest of the day. But don't skip meals before you go out to eat.
It's harder to make healthy food choices when you get too hungry. It may help
to have a small snack 2 or 3 hours before you go out to eat.
fast-food restaurants have nutrition information available on the Internet and
in the restaurants. Use the information to choose items that are lower in fat,
calories, and salt.
If you will be eating at a restaurant that
does not offer fruits or vegetables, take your own. For example, if you are
going to a fast-food restaurant, bring an apple or a bag of baby carrots to add
to your meal.
Test Your Knowledge
It's a good idea to skip a meal if you know that you
will be going out to eat later that day.
When you go out to eat, there are often more temptations than there are
at home. The large portions that most restaurants serve can make it easy to
overeat without even realizing it. You may feel pressure from the other people
at your table to choose foods that normally you would not. And sometimes there
just aren't a lot of healthy choices available on the menu.
the good news is that there are always ways to make the best of the situation,
whether that means asking for your food to be prepared with less fat or
splitting a meal with a friend. To stay on track, take a moment before you go
out to eat to remind yourself why it is important to you to make healthy
Test Your Knowledge
Tempting food, large portions, and pressure from
friends can all make it harder to make healthy choices when you eat
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
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
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
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
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 sherbert.
Add fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
Order extra vegetables on pizzas and
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
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
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
Test Your Knowledge
A good way to control your portions is to split a
meal with someone else at your table.
Now that you have read this
information, you are ready to make healthy choices when you eat out. Talk with
your doctor about making healthy food choices. He or she may have more
suggestions and tips. You may also want to meet with a
registered dietitian for more ideas about healthy
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.