The Dish on Dining Out

People eat out for many reasons including social gatherings, family outings, and busy lifestyles, but it shouldn't be an excuse to put your health on the backburner. Restaurant food can often be high in salt, saturated fat, and calories. Balance, along with choosing dishes wisely, makes it possible to incorporate eating out into a healthy lifestyle. These tips and tricks will help make navigating restaurant menus a breeze!

Plan Ahead 
If you know ahead of time that you're going to a restaurant, allow yourself to enjoy your favorite dish with no regrets by planning to have lighter meals full of fruits and veggies during the day. Vice versa, if you ended up splurging on lunch, plan a light dinner in the evening. Many restaurants are now posting menus and nutrition facts online that can be used ahead of time to make an informed decision.

Incorporate Physical Activity
Choose a nearby restaurant to walk to instead of driving. One that is within 10 or 15 minutes can help ensure you get 30 minutes of physical activity for the day. This would also help you avoid any parking hassles and spend extra time with friends and family before and after eating. Or choose to take a walk after a meal to help with digestion!

Pay Attention to Wording
Descriptions under menu items can give you insight on how food is prepared. Look for words including "grilled", "broiled", or "steamed", meaning the food is cooked with less fat or no fat at all. Avoid dishes with descriptions such as "fried", "breaded", "smothered", "alfredo", "rich", and "creamy".

Watch your Portions
Many restaurants serve huge portions. Splitting a meal or taking half of your meal home for leftovers can prevent overeating, double your satisfaction, and can be a real money saver. Another option is to choose items off the kids' menu, if allowed. These items are designed to provide smaller portion sizes.

Say No to Freebies
Complimentary chips and salsa or bread baskets are frequently offered upon being seated at a restaurant. With endless refills of these freebies, you may end up snacking more than you realize causing calories to add up quickly! Ask the server not to bring these foods to your table to avoid unwanted calories and save room for the more nutrient-dense foods in your meal. 

Take Your Time
It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the message from your stomach that you are no longer hungry. Fast eaters tend to overeat. Slow eaters tend to eat less and are still satisfied. Slow down so you can enjoy your meal and the company you're with.

Choose Wisely
Ask for a side salad, vegetables, fruit, or broth-based soups to replace fried and high-fat side options. When it comes to beverages, choose water, fat-free or low-fat milk, unsweetened tea, and other drinks without added sugars to complement your meal. You can also request that butter, cheese, toppings, salad dressings, sauces, and gravies be served on the side. This allows you to control how much you use.

Next time you are out to eat, try incorporating at least 1 of these tips.

Healthier Chow Mein

Helpful Resources
Dish on Dining Out Handout


  1. Gordon Barbara. 7 Tips for Healthy Eating. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Published January 3, 2019.
  2. 10 Tips: Eating Foods Away from Home. United States Department of Agriculture. Reviewed July 25, 2017.
  3. Dining Out Doesn't Mean Ditch your Diet. American Heart Association. Reviewed January 10, 2017.