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Healthy Restaurant Dining

When dining out, we are faced with many tempting food selections. This post offers straightforward tips for making healthy food choices when ordering a meal in a restaurant.

1. Ask how the food is prepared and take your time when ordering.

2. The more simply something is prepared, the more control you have over what you are eating. Choose plain baked, broiled, grilled, roasted, poached, or steamed food without added sauces or gravy.

3.  Ask for butter, sauce, gravy, sour cream and salad dressing to be served on the side so you can control how much of it you add to your food.  

4. Avoid foods that are breaded, deep fried, sautéed, scalloped, creamed, in cheese sauce, or prepared with mayonnaise. Ask that the chef to prepare your food with very little butter or oil or none at all.

5. Ask how large the serving size is. If the meal is large, ask that half of it arrive on your plate and the other half be given to you in a take-out bag to go. This way you can stretch the meal into two meals.

6. Ask that bread not be served or if a bread basket is brought to the table, take one piece and then have your server take the rest of the bread away.

7. Order an appetizer and a small salad instead of an entrée or share an entrée with your dining companion.

8. Be selective at salad bars. Choose fresh greens, raw vegetables, fresh fruits, and low fat or fat free salad dressings. Avoid salads prepared with mayonnaise.

9. Order healthy side dishes such as vegetables or a baked potato.

10. Skip dessert, share a dessert, or order fruit (even if you don’t see it listed on the menu) for dessert.

11. Limit yourself to one or two alcoholic beverages.

12. Ask for fat-free or 1% milk so you can add it to your coffee instead of cream or half-and-half.

13. Try to avoid restaurants that offer all-you-can-eat buffets because you’re more likely to eat more food (and more calories) than you need. ShrimpDish494

14. You can always try virtual reality dining, an experiment in its early stages which includes virtual reality headsets, along with food aromas, to make users  think that they are enjoying a range of delicious foods such as lasagne and steak.

Please leave a comment or question. What is your greatest challenge when dining out?  What type of ethnic restaurants do you prefer?  What future food related topics would you like to read more about in future posts?



52 Responses to Healthy Restaurant Dining

  • Bola says:

    There are so many choices in restaurants which can be confusing. Thanks for the tips that make a healthy choice.

  • maxwell ivey says:

    Hi Michele; these are some good easy to follow tips for people trying to eat healthy while eating out. I think the best suggestion is to take your time and if possible download or print out a menu in advance. I know its difficult but asking those questions of your server or asking him or her to come back while you make a good decision is worth it. Thanks for sharing, Max

  • Michele — all good tips. I find I can’t resist the bread basket when I dine out. On the other hand, I rarely ask them to take it away (something I should do). I’ve taken to ordering two appetizers instead of a main course. It’s more than enough to eat.

  • Anna Khan says:

    Thank you for such important tips to go for healthy diet even in restaurants.
    I want to ask two questions; Many times I am told by my mother that try to drink warm water with food. Is it good???
    Secondly, we are told to have any sweet dessert after food, it can be a date too, is it helpful in any way??

    Thank you.

    • Hi Anna and thank you. According to the American Dietetic Association, people who drink a glass of water before eating, consume an average 75 fewer calories per meal. Water also seems to help us burn calories more efficiently, although the temperature of the water hasn’t been sufficiently researched. That being said, cold water helps burn slightly more calories than warm water. I do not believe there are any particular health benefits to consuming a sweet dessert after a meal, although the sugar is handled better, in terms of blood sugar levels, if consumed after a meal, by people with diabetes, for example, who enjoy eating occasional sweets. Dates or any type of fruit which is also high in fiber, is a good example of a healthy sweet dessert.

  • tuhinmech says:

    Hello Michele,
    I specifically want to ask you something regarding point no 5. I have heard and read in a number of journals ,articles etc that we should divide a big meal in to smaller ones.
    I want to know what exactly is the reason behind this? Does big meals hurt our digestive system?
    And is it injurious to have curd or sweets in the evening?

    • Hi Tuhin. In response to your first question: Recent findings suggest that in terms of losing or controlling weight, as well as maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, it is actually preferable to eat two large meals a day (breakfast and lunch) without snacking in between, and then to consume a small meal in the evening. So, if you go to a restaurant (where portion sizes are often larger) in the evening for dinner, it is a good idea to eat half the meal in the restaurant and take the other half home to be eaten the following day. Also, since most people are awake and active in the daytime, though we may crave sweets at night, high calorie evening snacks tend to result in weight gain, as calories are burned less efficiently in the evening. In addition, our body’s insulin levels tend to be lower at night, which means our blood sugar (glucose) levels may not be as well controlled. I hope this information is helpful to you.

  • Andy says:

    “3. Ask for … sauce … to be served on the side so you can control how much of it you add to your food.”

    Just out of curiosity, have you ever done this at a Chinese restaurant? If so, what was the reaction? Did the restaurant accommodate you? (I’m thinking of a plate of General Tso’s Chicken right now as I’m typing this.)

    “12. Ask for fat-free or 1% milk so you can add it to your coffee instead of cream or half-and-half.”

    You don’t mention whole milk, which is what I always add to my coffee – you wouldn’t take me out to the woodshed for that, would you?

    • Yes, Andy. I used to eat a lot of Chinese food. You can order it steamed and without sauce. I never recommend whole milk. Though a better choice than half and half, it’s still quite high in fat and calories. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  • Jason @ says:

    Those are some great restaurant dining tips. I need to start using them.

  • Nice points here about eating and restaurant dining. If you were to follow them all it would make your diet a lot healthier.

  • Tim says:

    One of the biggest things I had to get used to when I first arrived in the US was portion sizes. Then it was getting sauces and dressings on the side. The combination of eating these how they would otherwise arrive at your table can be overwhelming. All your points are well taken.

  • Thank you for sharing. I must admit it is dining out that kills my diet. Usually you get into a mindset that dining out is a treat, and hence an excuse to go off your diet. Now, I have something to think about before I order my meals.

    • With some advance strategy, such as thinking ahead about what you will order, before arriving at the restaurant, dining out can not only be a treat, but a healthier treat as well. Thank you for your comment William. I hope you will find some of these tips useful.

  • GuyFoodGuru says:

    Good, sensible, and easy to follow tips while eating out. I always take half of my order home for another meal or split a meal with my wife. Your suggestions are great to add to my eating out plan.

  • Arleen says:

    You have some great tips. We went to a Greek restaurant and were told that you order appetizers which are your starters and a Greek salad is your main meal. It worked out great. They also put no salt on the table.

    • Thank you Arleen! Your Greek restaurant meal sounds wonderful. I love Greek salad! It’s great that they didn’t put salt on the table. Between the feta cheese and the olives, Greek salad already has enough sodium!

  • awazieikechi says:

    Hi Michele

    Great tips to follow. So simple and short. Eating habits don’t have to be boring. Thanks for sharing and making it fun.

  • Kire Sdyor says:

    Michele, I’ve read your post about Healthy Restaurant Dining and I am really hungry now.

  • These are good suggestions, Michele, thank-you. It’s great that restaurants comply with special requests. I ask for an extra side of vegetables if an entree includes a “side of fries” and I’ve never had any problem.

    • You are right, Pamela. Restaurants are generally very accommodating with regard to menu substitutions. I usually do the same thing unless I can get a baked potato. I am grateful that I love vegetables! In fact, I even prefer vegetables to fruit!

  • Beth Niebuhr says:

    My fave is to order an appetizer and a salad. Nice tips.

  • Alice says:

    Rule #3: we ask for no butter on vegetables, no garlic butter or slated butter on bread sticks, and no extra cheese. Not everyone gets that.

  • Andrew Smith says:

    Rule #13 resonates with me big time. The thing is, most buffets (unless its in Vegas) produce sub-standard food largely because the food is prepared in bulk quantities and sits under a heat lamp for extended periods of time. Gross.

  • Phoenicia says:

    Thanks for the tips. Healthy eating is the way to go. It is a discipline but has great rewards.

  • Ken Dowell says:

    Reading this in Disney World where I am of course eating every meal in restaurants. Let’s see, for dinner last night I had a caprese salad, not bad, but uh-oh, then I had chicken parmigiana. And then there was the chili cheese dog lunch. Okay, I’m going to go have a piece of fruit for breakfast.

    • I remember those trips to Disney World, Ken! I would imagine you are burning calories by doing a lot of walking. Fruit for breakfast is a healthy choice but without some protein, like a couple slices of cheese, it may not hold you over till lunch…

  • My husband and I generally avoid buffets. Have you seen the size of some of the people who DO eat at them? My goodness if you need a visual to deter you, just watch for this next time you consider it.

    I’ve been on the Medifast plan since Nov 1. In my mind, because of the influence ability of the coach I was assigned at the time, if I could lose weight during the holidays, imagine what I could do the rest of the year. Well, I lost about 8 pounds between then and Dec 31 so I am psyched. In about 7 more pounds I’ll be transitioning to get off of a lot of their high protein meals and your tips here are going to really help me.

    Thanks Michele.

    • I used to work with the Medifast plan through a doctor’s office. Our patients achieved good long term weight loss results on the plan. I wish you the best and am glad my tips will be helpful to you, Patricia. Thanks for your comment!

  • Absolutely and most of it applies to when we eat at home as well. What we can and cannot eat has a lot to do with what works with our body or not. Have thyroid problems so I recently found out I should not eat broccoli and all forms of cabbage because they have a negative impact on the thyroid.

  • cheryltherrien says:

    OK That last one really got me. I have never heard of virtual dining. I wonder if it really works.

  • Susan Cooper says:

    These are good ideas. Especially #6. Bread is my down fall. I tell them don’t even bring it to my table or I’m done for. Diet is blown!

    • I’m not usually much of a bread eater, unless it’s naan, which I love. I like bagels and try to buy the smaller ones. I’m glad you agree that #6 is a good idea. Thanks, Susan!

  • Husnaa says:

    Great tips Michele, I am guilty of being sucked in by the thought of being hungry, so over-ordering and the temptation of delicious descriptions on paper. I have to admit I eat out a lot and will definitely consider the points you made and refer to them next time I dine out, especially the point about asking for sauces and dressings on the side.

    Thank you for sharing.
    Love, Husnaa x x

    • That’s good to hear, Husnaa! It is also helpful not to be too hungry when you arrive at the restaurant. Have a light snack before you go. For example, a salad with balsamic vinegar and a large glass of water, or a piece of fruit.

  • lenie5860 says:

    I like your suggestion of ordering an appetizer and salad instead of an entree. And I really like your suggestion of asking for fruit even if it’s not on the menu. A friend of mine used to ask for hot water and lemon to make her own drink instead of coffee or tea – I used to tease her but now I think she was just plain smart.

    • Yes, I agree that your friend was being smart. My mother used to carry non-fat dry powdered milk around with her in a small plastic bag, so that she wouldn’t have to use half and half, or have her hot drink made cold, by adding cold milk to it. Needless to say, she received many stares when whipping that plastic bag filled with white powder, out of her purse.

  • jacquiegum says:

    I do like the idea of asking for 1/2 and that the other be brought in the to-go bag. That’s inspired! No see, no eat:)
    Very helpful…even though it could be a bit of pain for the server or the kitchen! Laugh! Just had to mention that being a former restaurant owner:) But from what I can see, so many restaurants are offering healthy choices these days that it has become a lot easier.

    • I agree that it is easier to some extent, Jacquie. Still, if you are a fan of various ethnic foods, for example, one does have to be savvy in order to make the healthiest menu selections. Also, I believe many people don’t know they can often order things that are not actually on the menu. It pays to take the time to be specific, particularly if one dines out often.

  • I’m glad you find these ideas helpful, Atish! Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  • Atish Ranjan says:

    Great ideas Michele! I am a diabetic and thus healthy eating is indeed required for me.

  • Carolyn Field says:

    Thank you Michele, really helpful ideas. I notice that since reaching a certain age, that I tend to put weight on far more quickly- which is very annoying!

    • Yes, it’s true that for every decade of life, our metabolic rate slows down a bit. In addition to healthy eating with smaller portions, regular exercise is also helpful. Thanks, Carolyn!

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