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Dining Out and Eating Smart
Restaurant menus can be full of unhealthy options. With these tips, you can make healthy choices and still enjoy a tasty meal.

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Dining Out and Eating Smart

Giant portions. Unfamiliar terms. Rich dessert offerings. Eating out can be tricky if you're trying to manage your weight.

But you can order a delicious meal that won't sabotage your hard work. Here are some tips and ideas for making healthy choices at your next dinner out:

Speak up

  • Order salad dressings and other sauces on the side. Then just add a small amount when you need to. That way you'll avoid a lot of extra fat and calories.
  • Ask for special low-calorie, low-fat or lower-sodium preparation of a menu item. More and more restaurants are offering these options.
  • Ask questions. Your server can explain what ingredients are used or how an item is prepared.

Decode the menu

  • Choose tomato-based pasta sauces. Marinara or tomato and basil, for instance, are much lower in fat than cream-based sauces such as Alfredo and carbonara.
  • Choose items that are baked, grilled, broiled, poached or steamed. These items typically will have less fat and fewer calories.
  • Beware of dishes described as fried, creamed, au gratin, Parmesan, scalloped or breaded. They are typically much higher in fat and calories.

Watch portions

  • Share an appetizer. You don't need to fill up before the main course.
  • Try having an appetizer and a salad as your main meal. This is often enough food for one sitting.
  • Share a dessert with a friend or two. Usually a little taste is all you need.
  • Pay attention to your body's signals and stop eating when you are full. If you're a fast eater, slow down. It will give your body a chance to realize when you're full.
  • Love your leftovers. Don't want to waste the food? Save leftovers for tomorrow's lunch or dinner. You can even set aside half to take home before you start eating.

Think ahead

  • Don't go to the restaurant famished. You don't want to be so hungry that you gobble up everything in sight.
  • Skip the bread and chips. Or ask that they be brought with the entree.
  • Fill up on broth-based soup. Soup can serve as a great appetizer. When paired with a salad, it can work as an entree. Broth-based soup is filling and typically low in calories.
  • See if your restaurant has an online menu. Checking out the menu ahead of time gives you time to plan your choices. Some restaurants even post how many calories are in a dish.
  • Remember, alcohol counts. Don't forget to factor in your calories from alcohol. They can add up quickly. Drinking can also weaken your resolve. If you are of legal drinking age and choose to drink, do so in moderation. That means no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two for men. Some people, like pregnant women, should not drink.


  • Order a baked potato to replace fries or mashed potatoes.
  • And ask for salsa on that baked potato instead of sour cream or butter. Salsa adds a lot of flavor for a fraction of the calories.
  • If available, choose whole-grain foods, such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice or oatmeal, over their refined counterparts.
  • Order sandwiches with mustard rather than mayonnaise. Mustard adds flavor but has no fat and very few calories.
  • Drink water, fat-free milk or unsweetened tea or coffee. Sugary beverages are full of calories which are most often empty calories.
  • Choose berries or other fresh fruit for dessert instead of high-fat cakes or ice cream.

Emily A. King contributed to this report.

By Jane Schwartz Harrison, RD, Contributing Writer
Created on 06/29/2007
Updated on 03/07/2013
  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Healthy eating on the run: A month of tips.
  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Eating out.
  • United States Department of Agriculture. Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010.
  • United States Department of Agriculture. Tips for eating healthy when eating out.
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