Eating Out Made Easy

Learn how to easily and confidently make the selections you can feel good about when eating out.

Additional Resources:

Healthier Choices Restaurant Guide

Eating Out Made Easy Presentation Slides

Wellness Coaching

Health Plus provides personal wellness coaching as a benefit for Vanderbilt faculty and staff. Wellness coaching can help you find the motivation and tools to reach your goals. Goals might include losing weight, being more physically active, eating better, quitting smoking or lowering stress. Your coach will offer guidance and support along the way. To make an appointment call 615-343-8943.

Begin Transcript

Laura Osterman:                Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt University Health and Wellness Wellcast.  I am Laura Osterman with Health Plus.  Choosing healthy foods when dining out can be challenging, and we are here today to get the healthy scoop with Melinda Mahoney, Registered Dietitian and Marissa Wertheimer, Registered Dietitian.  Thanks for joining us today.

Melinda Mahoney:              Thanks Laura.

Laura Osterman:                Tell us a little bit more about the challenges when dining out.

Melinda Mahoney:              Eating out can be a real challenge.  A lot of times, these foods are really high in fat and calories and you may just feel like you do not have a good option to choose.  So, we have a few healthy tips to really help guide you to make eating healthy the easy choice, and before we start in, I just really want to encourage everyone that eating out does not have to be the norm.  A lot of time, we get into habits of going through the drive through or always going out to meet friends for dinner at a restaurant, and there are really convenient healthier choices that we can use in our lives to eat healthier rather than just always defaulting to dining out.

Laura Osterman:                When we are in the situations that we are eating out, what are some of the strategies that can be helpful?

Marissa Wertheimer:           We have three strategies that we want to share with you today for eating out.  The first one is to plan ahead.  For example, this may include looking up the nutritional information online ahead of time before going out.  We really encourage doing this even once because it is so eye opening to see what is really in the food that you are eating, so it is a good tip to maybe look for something that you normally eat that might be higher in fat and higher in calories and choosing another option on the menu that looks just as appealing that is a healthier choice, lower in calories, lower in fat, and maybe higher in some nutrients.

Laura Osterman:                Melinda, what else can you offer as a strategy or tip?

Melinda Mahoney:              Our second tip is just to ask for what you want, just not being afraid to ask your waiter and waitress if they can change the food a little bit.  So, an example might be to ask for dressing on the side so that you can control how much you are consuming or even gravy or other sauces.  You can just ask how large is the serving size because a lot of times, the plates and serving sizes are way bigger than what we need to consume, so just asking if they can just show their hands at how big the serving is and you may decide that you want a half order or you want to order from the kids menu.  Something else you can do is just ask if foods can be cooked differently.

Laura Osterman:                Marissa, once we have planned ahead and asked for what we want at the restaurant, what other strategies can we use?

Marissa Wertheimer:           Another strategy we can use is to take charge of what is around you.  An example of this might be being the first to order at the table.  Oftentimes, it might be hard to make a healthier choice when the other people around you are choosing less healthy options, but if you are the first to order then you are not really being influenced by other peoples’ decision, and you might even be a positive influence on your friends that you are eating with.  Another tip of taking charge of what is around you is just politely saying, “No, thank you.” to complimentary foods such as bread and chips that the server might bring out or politely just saying, “Just this one basket is fine.”  Another thing is asking for your plate to be removed as soon as you finish just because I know it is very common for people to continue eating and picking out their food when it is right in front of them even if they are full and then asking for a to go box to wrap up the leftovers of your meal to eat for another time.

Laura Osterman:                Three strategies – plan ahead, ask for what you want, and take charge of what is around you.  Now, when we are looking at a menu, what things can we look for to choose the healthier option?

Melinda Mahoney:              There are some really obvious things like usually vegetables are going to be lower in calories, but depending on how it is cooked can really change the nutrition of a dish.  There are some key words to look for on your menu, some are higher-calorie, high‑fat words like breaded, Parmesan, pastry, southern style, or crispy.  Those are some key words to know that this is going to be higher in fat and calories.  The healthier words to look for on the menu that are lower in fat and calories are words like baked, grilled, boiled, steamed, and poached; those all mean that they are cooked in a healthier way.

Laura Osterman:                We will include at the bottom of this page, more information including slides and handouts where you can learn more about choosing healthy foods when you are dining out.  Health Plus also offers wellness coaching. Contact us if you like to schedule an appointment to meet with a wellness coach.

Thanks for listening.  Please feel free to leave us any comments on this Wellcast on the form at the bottom of this page.  If you have a story suggestion, please email it to us at or you can use the “Contact Us” page on our website at

-- end of recording (06:23) --