Healthy Eating at Restaurants

Here is a question I just received from a reader:

Image courtesy of Getty Images

Image courtesy of Getty Images

I have recently been getting a lot of questions about eating out and how to make healthy choices. I have to say, it is tough! Somethings that sound healthy are secretly loaded with fat and salt. Remember Shelley’s Recipe Redo?

“This week is one where I have something planned after work every night, most times going out to dinner with friends for various occasions. I know planning ahead is one of the best tools for a healthy eater so I’ve been reviewing the restaurant menus online before I go so that I have some healthy options in mind rather than getting overwhelmed or succumbing to peer pressure once I’m at the restaurant. My problem is deciding what is healthiest when there aren’t nutrition facts listed on the menu. Can you give me some tips on what to look for (keywords, ingredients, etc.) in restaurant menu items to make the healthiest decision?”

First of all, reviewing the menu online is the first thing I recommend doing, so great job! A lot of restaurants have their nutritional information online, or unofficial information can be found on sites like Diet Facts, Calorie Count, or Calorie King. If you favorite restaurants don’t offer nutritional data, call or email them and request it. If enough customers request the info, they will be being to offer it up!

I do have some other tips and tricks that I use when I am planning a night out for dinner.

– Plan Ahead: Having a plan is helpful when you are trying to stick to a healthy diet and fitness plan. Looking at menus online is a great way to get a feel for a restaurant and really investigate the menu items without distractions from friends and family.

– Budget Your Calories: If you know you will be eating out, work some extra cardio in the day before and the day after, or eat lighter the rest of the day or the following day.

– Read Between the Lines: Look for foods that are grilled, steamed, broiled, baked, poached, roasted. Avoid food that are fried, crispy, creamy, sauteed, au gratin, pan-fried, or stuffed.

– Ask Questions: Servers are paid to know the menu at their restaurants, so make them earn it! Ask how dishes are prepared, and request items with no added oils or butter. If no one asks for healthier options at restaurants, we will continue to see unhealthy menu items taking over.

– Share: Did you know that after three bites of dessert, your enjoyment diminishes greatly? Share a dessert with the table on special occasions. If nothing really catches your attention, skip dessert and have a decaf coffee or cappuccino, or tea with honey.

– Speak Up: If you are going out with friends, offer to pick the restaurant. That way you can chose a place you know has plenty of healthy options.

– Don’t Give Into Peer Pressure: Just because your friends might be ordering unhealthy things, stick to your plan and be proud of your choices!

– Small Plates, Big Flavors: Choose two small appetizers as your entree, or an appetizer and a salad. You get more variety in smaller portions. Of course, if nachos and chicken wings are the healthiest appetizers, this tip does not apply!

– Beware of Salads: Restaurant salads can often have more calories and fat than some of the entrees. Watch out for fried toppings and creamy dressings. Get dressing on the side so you can control the quantity, and stick to vinaigrette.

– Enjoy Yourself: Just remember that one meal is not going to make or break your healthy lifestyle. Enjoy being with friends and family and take your time to savor your meal. I also try to always order something that I could not or would not make at home to really take advantage being out.


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