Healthy Tips for Eating Out

You can still dine out at restaurants and eat healthy. Many restaurants now offer healthier options that are lower in calories, saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol. Follow these steps for a healthier dining experience.

1. Have a Plan

Do your research before stepping into a restaurant. You can access the nutrition information for most fast food and chain restaurants on their websites or in reference books such as Calorie King, and Calorie, Fat and Carbohydrate Counter. Look for menu options that are lower in calories, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol.

2. Know the Healthy Lingo

Not all restaurants can provide nutrition information for their menu items, but you can still make healthier choices through knowing the lingo. Scan the menu for terms like “Healthy Options,” “Less than 500 Calories” options, “Weight Watchers” choices and “Low Fat.”

3. Control Your Portions

Restaurant portions are not the portion sizes we should be eating. Just by cutting back the amount of food you eat, you also cut back the amount of calories, “bad fats,” cholesterol and sodium!

Try these tips:

  • Ask if the restaurant offers 1/2 portions.
  • Order from the senior citizen or children’s menu.
  • Ask for a take home box to come out with your food. Before eating, put 1/2 of your food in the box. Out of site = Out of mind!
  • Share an entrée with a friend.
  • Instead of everyone ordering their own dessert, order one for everyone to taste.
  • Avoid buffets.

4. Make Heart Healthy Choices

  • Type of Food - Breakfast
    Instead of: Pancakes, croissants, muffins, biscuits and pastries, bacon, sausage, scrapple and eggs (over easy or sunny side up). Hash browns or home fries.
    Try: Buckwheat pancakes or waffles with fresh fruit. Whole-wheat bagel with low-fat cream cheese. Whole grain toast or English muffin with trans fat-free margarine, peanut butter or preserves. Omelet made with egg substitute or egg whites. Poached eggs or scrambled egg substitute (limit two to four per week). Lean ham, Canadian bacon, turkey bacon or sausage. Oatmeal, cream of wheat, grits or whole grain cold cereal. Low fat yogurt parfait and low fat cottage cheese with fresh pineapple.
  • Type of Restaurant - Family Restaurants
    Instead of: Cream soups such as cream of potato, cream of crab or clam chowder. Salad with full fat salad dressing. Creamy coleslaw, buffalo wings or fried chicken tenders, cheeseburger or fried chicken sandwich and fried fish. French fries with cheese or gravy.
    Try: Broth based soups such as Maryland crab, chicken corn, vegetable, Italian wedding or chicken noodle soup. Salad with fat-free or low-fat salad dressing. Steamed vegetables, shrimp cocktail or grilled chicken tenders. Grilled or blackened chicken sandwich or veggie burger, broiled fish, baked potato with trans fat-free spread or salsa.
  • Type of Restaurant - Steak House
    Instead of: Fatty cuts of meat such as rib eye, porter house or T-bone. French fries, au gratin or scalloped potatoes. Caesar or pre-dressed salad and fried vegetables.
    Try: Leaner cuts of meat such as London broil, filet mignon, flank steak, sirloin tips or tenderloin. Baked potato or rice pilaf. Salad with low-fat dressing on the side and steamed vegetables.
  • Type of Restaurant - Italian
    Instead of: Fried mozzarella sticks, fried calamari, fried zucchini. Cheese or meat filled pastas or casserole-type dishes (ravioli, manicotti, lasagna). Pasta with butter or cream sauces such as Alfredo sauce. Any scallopini or parmigiana (floured, fried and baked with cheese).
    Try: Bruschetta, minestrone or Italian wedding soup. Pasta primavera (with sautéed garden vegetables) or linguini with clam sauce. Pasta with marinara, marsala or pesto sauce. Marsala or piccata dishes.
  • Type of Restaurant - Chinese
    Instead of: Egg drop soup, fried egg rolls and wontons. Dishes with fried meats (General Tso’s, Sesame or Orange Chicken). Fried rice or lo mein. Lobster sauce, oyster sauce and soy sauce.
    Try: Wonton or hot-and-sour soup. Steamed dumplings. Dish with lots of vegetables (chicken with broccoli, pepper steak, shrimp with vegetables), steamed rice. Sweet and sour, plum or duck sauce.
  • Type of Restaurant - Mexican
    Instead of: Flour tortillas, nacho grande (nachos with cheese, beef, sour cream), carnitas (fried beef or pork) or chorizo, refried beans (often made with lard), full fat sour cream and cheese, quesadillas (flour or corn tortilla, filled with meat and cheese and fried), chalupas and beef tacos, taco salad, flautas, burritos and chimichangas.
    Try: Corn tortillas, tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole. Grilled chicken, fish or shrimp. Black beans and rice. Salsa, pico de gallo, cilantro, lime juice and jalapeno peppers. Chicken fajitas (marinated chicken grilled with onions, green peppers, lettuce and diced tomatoes with a soft corn tortilla). Grilled chicken or fish taco. Chicken fajita salad with salsa and guacamole without a taco shell. Fajitas or chicken enchiladas in red sauce.

Healthy Eating References: Low Sodium Diet Patient Handout, Memorial Hospital Nutrition Education, 2009.
Low Fat Diet Patient Handout, Memorial Hospital Nutrition Education, 2009.
Destination! Heart Healthy Eating Booklet, Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition, 2007. Holding the Lid on Fats Patient Handout, Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition. Tips For Eating Out, American Heart Association, 2010. Snack Attack! MOVE! Nutrition Handout, United States Department of Veteran Affairs, 2010. What Are The Types of Fat?
MOVE! Nutrition Handout, United States Department of Veteran Affairs, 2010.
The Basics of the Nutrition Facts Panel, American Dietetic Association.