One of the most difficult things I’ve found when trying to follow a healthy lifestyle is eating out at restaurants. When you work so hard at home to follow healthy eating guidelines of knowing everything that goes into your food and avoiding unhealthy ingredients (like butter, salt, and lots of saturated fats), eating at a restaurant (NOT on a cheat day) can feel like a step backwards.
One could say, “Well, just don’t eat out, then.” But, realistically, that’s just not gonna happen. Eating at restaurants is fun and social and new.
The good news is that it’s still totally possible to eat at restaurants AND be healthy – you just need a few tricks up your sleeve so you can be prepared to make good, healthy choices.
Here are my best 11 tips for how to eat healthy at restaurants. Trust me, it’s possible – let me show you how!
11 Tips For Healthy Eating At Restaurants
1. Scan the menu.
Look for key words, such as “pan-fried,” “crispy,” “dipped,” “scalloped,” “gratin,” “cream,” and “alfredo.” Dishes with those words tend to have a lot of hidden fat and sodium. Instead, look for menu items with words such as “grilled,” “steamed” and “baked.”
2. Eat some meat.
Meat has a ton of protein and, when lean, is a great idea to order. When ordering meat, pick leaner cuts of beef (look for flank steak, skirt steak, tenderloin, sirloin, or filet mignon). Or, opt for chicken breast-based dishes versus one with chicken thighs.
3. Ask to double or triple the vegetables.
Often, a side of vegetables in a restaurant is really like a garnish, not a real serving. When ordering, ask for double or triple the normal serving of veggies, and offer to pay extra. More often than not, you won’t even be charged. Also, ask that the vegetables not be cooked in butter (this is an easy way to escape unneeded fat and calories).
4. Go ethnic.
When it comes to ethnic food, Japanese, Thai, Greek, and Indian restaurants are often easier to eat healthier than Mexican, Chinese, or Italian restaurants because they feature grilled meats, less pastas and/or noodles, and other non-fried options. That doesn’t mean you should totally avoid the other types of restaurants, just know it may be a little trickier to find what you’re looking for which means your options will be limited.
5. Ask about preparation.
Chefs are trained to use butter and salt to heighten flavors and, especially in better (more expensive) restaurants, they’re using tons of butter. In cheaper restaurants, they’re using tons of oil. They do this because, if you pour oil, butter, salt on anything, it tastes better and make the customer’s tastebuds happy. If you’re concerned about the butter or oil content of your food, don’t be afraid to ask your server how the food is prepared. If you find out what you want is actually loaded with oil or butter, either ask for it to be prepared differently or choose something else.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Along the same lines as the previous tip, I highly recommend that you ask the waiter/waitress questions about how the food is prepared if you’re not clear. Often waiters might, for example, say a soup is a “creamy purée,” but, if you ask if there’s cream or butter in there, you’ll know for sure and it can be the difference of hundreds of calories and tons of unnecessary fat. Look at it as your responsibility to know what you’re putting into your body.
7. Look for these desserts.
If everyone else is ordering desserts and you want to join in, you do have a few options. Try to pick a lower-calorie dessert, like a sorbet or non-dairy gelatos. Or, instead of getting a dessert, get a skim milk latte to enjoy and keep the conversation going. Even a special latte will make it feel special and allow you to enjoy with everyone else.
8. Box it early.
Ask to box half your entrée before it ever even gets to the table. Or, split an entrée with another person. Restaurants often serve two to three times what you actually need for a normal serving. This will save you money and calories. It may sound weird, but many people do use this technique and it makes tons of sense.
9. Skip the fancy pants drinks.
If you must order an alcoholic drink, forget the margaritas, piña coladas, and other exotic mixed drinks. They include sugary add-ins that add tons of calories and processed sugars and flavors. Instead, order a glass of wine, a light beer, a vodka and tonic, or a simple martini. These options will be better for your waistline when you choose to indulge (though try to make it not that often!).
10. Order fish.
Fish is a great option, as long as it’s not fried. You can order seafood in tons of different ways—steamed, blackened, baked, broiled, sautéed, or grilled. My favorite is grilled.
11. Drink water throughout the meal.
Drinking water will slow you down from eating your food too fast, which will help you enjoy the food more, and it will allow your brain to get the message form your stomach that you’re full so you don’t overeat before your plate is already empty.
How To Eat Healthy At Restaurants
Now, all you need to do is use these tips the next time you go out to eat. The more you use them, the better you’ll get at spotting healthy versus unhealthy options and it will feel more and more natural. The bottom line is it’s possible to make good choices and have control over your food – even at restaurants.
If you’re interested in learning more about clean eating as a way to take control of your health and to improve your relationship with food, sign up for my free newsletter to get tons more information! Plus, you’ll get my free beginner’s guide to clean eating, too! 🙂
This post was last updated on February 5, 2016 to include a new video.
I've got your dinners covered this week
- Get my FREE 5-Day Meal Plan plus...
- Organized grocery list to save time and money
- Helpful cooking tips and tricks
- Free videos on forming better cooking skills
- Kitchen conversion and substitution charts