Healthy Eating: Making Healthy Choices When You Eat Out

Introduction

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.
 

When possible, plan ahead. Before you get to the restaurant, think about how you can make the meal more nutritious.

  • 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.
  • Choose 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 can.
  • 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.
  • Most 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.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    It's harder to make healthy food choices when you get too hungry. 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.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    It's harder to make healthy food choices when you get too hungry. 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.

  •  

Continue to Why?

 

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.

But 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 choices.

Test Your Knowledge

Tempting food, large portions, and pressure from friends can all make it harder to make healthy choices when you eat out.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    It can be hard to make healthy choices when you eat out. 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 choices.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    It can be hard to make healthy choices when you eat out. 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 choices.

  •  

Continue to How?

 

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 sherbert.

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.

Test Your Knowledge

A good way to control your portions is to split a meal with someone else at your table.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Restaurants tend to serve portions that are enough for two or three people. Sharing can help you avoid overeating.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Restaurants tend to serve portions that are enough for two or three people. Sharing can help you avoid overeating.

  •  

Your beverage choices are just as important as your food choices when you eat out.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    The calories in soft drinks and alcoholic drinks can add up. Water, sugar-free or low-calorie fruit-flavored sparkling water, and unsweetened iced tea are better choices.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    The calories in soft drinks and alcoholic drinks can add up. Water, sugar-free or low-calorie fruit-flavored sparkling water, and unsweetened iced tea are better choices.

  •  

Continue to Where?

 

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 eating.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Last Revised January 25, 2013

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