Tips for A Healthy Dining Out Experience

By Valerie Bannos –

Lunch meeting, quick stop, date night, family occasion, or just pure laziness…restaurants are conveniently located everywhere! There are so many types to pick from that it may seem hard to make the right choices when dining out. However, with a bit of tweaking and some key words to watch out for, dining out doesn’t have to bulge your waistline or compromise your health.

Dining out is generally not the best choice for a healthy lifestyle because of the increased use of unhealthy oils and chemical additives, exaggerated portion sizes, decreased inhibitions, and poor quality ingredients. However, not everyone has the time to shop and prepare a meal for a family, let alone themselves. So while you’re seeking convenience, try to aim for no more than two or three times a week of restaurant food. Here are a few tips for each type of restaurant:


  • Have omlets prepared with vegetables and go easy on the cheese or skip it completely.
  • Opt for fresh fruit instead of potatoes if you’re having toast; or opt for fruit instead of toast if you’re having potatoes.
  • Steer clear of fake fats like margarine and limit jelly on toasts and pancakes. Avoid trying to save a few calories by using sugar-free syrup because you will be trading the sugar for toxic chemical sweeteners.
  • Try to limit breakfast meats or ask for chicken or turkey sausage/bacon. Pork products can take up to four hours to digest and give you the urge to take a nap when you should be at your prime.
  • Try to steer clear of biscuits and gravy, stuffed French toasts, and meatlover’s omelets. Good choices can be steak and eggs, oatmeal with fresh fruit, egg orders, omelets, etc.
  • Ask for French toast on whole wheat instead of white.
  • Lunch salads can become unhealthy if you don’t watch the ingredients. Go lightly on the cheese and choose grilled chicken or salmon for a protein (steer clear of crispy, breaded, and battered meats). Stay away from diet salad dressings; the oil will have been replaced by a large amount of processed sugar which can give you an insulin spike. Just use regular dressing sparingly, or better yet go for olive oil with lemon juice or red wine vinegar.
  • Keep fountain drinks small, or better yet order lemon water.
  • Substitute fruit or a side salad for fries, chips or potato salad. This can boost the nutritional value of the meal and easily save you up to 200 calories!
  • Have burgers without their buns and eat them with a knife and fork.

Sandwich Shops:

  • Opt for turkey, roast beef or chicken sandwiches and only choose one type of meat! Clubs with numerous meats are difficult to digest and have just too much meat to consume at a meal.
  • Lay off the mayonnaise – try honey mustard or regular mustard for next to no calories but loads of flavor.
  • Opt for half sandwich with broth soup or side salad/fruit.
  • Choose whole wheat or multi-grain breads, or skip the bread and eat the sandwich with a knife and fork.
  • Load up the vegetables!!! The best thing about a sandwich is the crunch of the lettuce!
  • Go easy on the cheese and ask for real cheeses such as Swiss or cheddar instead of processed cheese such as provel.

Fast food- doesn’t have to be unhealthy; you just have to watch portions and ingredients:

  • Keep the burgers to a single; steer clear of double-deckers and whoppers; opt for a junior burger.
  • Choose grilled chicken sandwiches. Do not choose breaded, crispy, fried, or battered.
  • Nix the mayonnaise and go for mustard, easy ketchup, lettuce, and tomato.
  • If you must get French fries, make them a size small!
  • Watch portions – a small today was considered a large a few years ago.
  • Try to keep things fresh.
  • Salads are a great choice, but remember that additional ingredients such as dried fruit and croutons increase the calorie and fat content. Choose nuts and seeds to add protein and taste instead. These actually help you lose weight!


  • Go easy on meat, load up on veggies, and stay light on the cheese.
  • Thin crust has fewer calories and less fat and carbohydrates than deep dish or thick crust. Better yet, just eat the toppings and forget the crust.
  • Don’t agree to breadsticks with pizza – there’s plenty of bread in the crust!
  • Watch dipping sauces – garlic sauce can contain as much as 250 calories and 28 grams of fat compared to marinara sauce with only 25 calories per serving.
  • Limit the slices. Pair 1 or 2 pieces of pizza with a nice side salad for an all around healthy meal.
  • Cheese in the crust may be very tempting, but try to pass this offer up.

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  • Do not choose tempura – it means battered and deep fried.
  • Avoid foods that are crispy – they’re deep fried. Choose steamed or stir fried instead.
  • Avoid egg rolls if you can – they’re deep fried in unhealthy processed oils and high on processed carbohydrates.
  • Many meats are deep fried before having sauce added to them; try grilled or stir-fried chicken and shrimp.
  • Most Chinese and Japanese dishes are high in sodium so cut down on sodium and add potassium by eating a banana or taking a potassium supplement the day before or the day of a Chinese meal.
  • Steer clear of heavy creams or sauces.
  • Best options are soup, Chinese vegetables, stir-fry, or anything steamed. Substitute brown rice for white and remember that a little goes a long way.


  • Choose soft tortillas when possible over the crunchy ones which are fried.
  • Black beans and pinto beans are better choices than refried beans which are usually made with lard.
  • Stay away from cheese dips. Chances are they are made with fake cheese and processed oils. Choose guacamole made with healthy fat from avocados instead. And load up on salsa, an antioxidant powerhouse!
  • Bean burritos have less fat and calories than those made with meat.
  • A lot of food is deep fried such as taquitos, chimichangas and chalupas so stay away from these.
  • Ask for brown rice, whole wheat tortillas or a side of vegetables or salad. Most places have these secret weapons, but just don’t offer them. If you ask, you shall receive.
  • Chicken fajitas are an excellent choice-just ask for easy oil during grilling.

Italian/Fine dining:

  • Pass up the bread as an appetizer- especially if you’re ordering pasta; carb over-load!
  • Choose minestrone or any other broth based soup as an appetizer. Broth soups are filling and nutritious.
  • Absolutely watch portions! The average meal at a chain dinner restaurant is 5 times larger than what it should be. There are doggy-bags for a reason!
  • Choose tomato or marinara sauces instead of alfredo, vodka, bearnaise or any other creamy sauce. Tomato and marinara sauces are high in antioxidants that slow aging.
  • Limit wine to one glass. Alcohol inhibits your judgment and can cause you to eat more than you planned.
  • Choose salads with dark lettuces, ask for your dressing on the side and just use some of it.
  • Chicken parmesan may be a classic favorite, but remember its usually breaded.

In the end, dining out doesn’t necessarily have to be unhealthy.

Bon Apatite!!

About The Author:

Valerie is a Graduate of Illinois State University with a BS in Nutrition/Dietetics and minor in psychology; office assistant to Registered Dietitian of ISU for three years; and interned with Arabella House in Naperville working with eating disorders.


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