Nutrition Articles

Beating Restaurants at Their Own Game!

Over a Dozen Dining Out Tips

Does your favorite restaurant serve piles of tempting foods on platters rather than plates? Are the biggie-sized meals at fast food restaurants trapping you into overeating? How do you deal with a bountiful breadbasket? Eating out is fun and relaxing, but you can make it healthier. Use these tried and true suggestions the next time you lock up the kitchen and step out for a meal:
  • Never go out while hungry. You’ll find yourself nibbling on everything that comes your way.
  • Foods that are grilled, baked, steamed or broiled provide healthy, flavorful alternatives. Ask how an entrée is prepared to ensure that your selection is not swimming in butter or other fattening sauce.
  • For pasta selections, choose a marinara sauce instead of a white cream sauce.
  • Order a healthy appetizer, salad, or small-sized entrée for your meal.
  • Select white chicken or turkey meat rather than dark meat, and have the skin removed.
  • Avoid the "all you can eat" and buffet-style restaurants.
  • Split a meal with a friend.
  • Get a doggie bag before the meal and put in a portion of the food when it is first served.
  • Avoid foods that have been prepared in heavy cream.
  • Eat slowly! Put your fork down between bites. It takes the stomach about 20 minutes to realize that it is full.
  • Order your salad or potato with the dressing, butter, sour cream, gravy and other extras on the side.
  • Trim all visible fat from meat.
  • Select fresh fruit, sorbet or frozen yogurt for dessert.
  • Watch the alcohol… it is loaded with calories and can lower your defenses against food, causing you to eat more.
  • Beware of the breadbasket. It comes early and can be refilled several times. Ask that it be brought with the meal and limit yourself to one serving.
  • Water is your best beverage choice. Order diet pop, tea, and coffee with artificial sweetener. Go light on the sugar and cream.
  • Don’t be afraid to special order menu items.
The key is to plan what to order in advance and stick to it. Decide on your priorities before going to the restaurant and avoid looking at the entire menu. Find what you had decided on and close the issue. Then, simply do the best you can with some smart choices. If you came for the burritos, then avoid the beans and rice. If you are there for the cheesecake, order a light meal or salad, with dressing on the side. With a few simple strategies, dining out does not have to totally destroy your dieting efforts.

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Member Comments

  • I try to check menus online before I go and pick something that's within my calorie range
  • When I go out to eat I count that as my cheat day. I skip the fries but allow myself a few from my daughters plate. I also found a few fav places that do soup and salad combos. Soups are great if theyre not cream based. I like cesar salads, dressing on the side, with lemon wedges. If its a good cesar then I just put lemon.
  • Never go out hungry? Sometimes that defeats its purpose. If you're going to a party with lots of finger food, its a good idea not to go hungry. However, if you are going out to eat dinner? Isn't the idea to get fed? There are smart choices in restaurants/
    I can't believe that SP is suggesting diet soda and artificial sweetener with your coffee or tea! I thought SP was advocating for healthy changes, not toxic substitutes that studies are proving actually cause weight gain! Most of the other suggestions look really good to me, except I can't do the "eat before you go" thing because I'll overeat anyway. Until I learn to control my compulsive eating (the "see food" diet), I either avoid situations where I might get into trouble or make sure I eat super low calorie in the earlier part of the day in order to compensate. My "no excuses" profile pic just doesn't hold in some situations... :(
  • @HollyAnn, why not just order a garden salad? Not all salads have fried meat on top! As a lifelong vegetarian (41 years) who has traveled all over the USA and all over the world, I can assure you that meatless, breadless salad options are available nearly everywhere. If they are not available at your favorite restaurant, it is highly unlikely that the other food served there is healthful, child-sized portion or not.
  • Simple, liveable, options are the key. My whole family is vegetarian.
    Need a burger? Veggie burger, no cheese, no mayo.
    Skip the fries. Choose a salad or steamed vegetables.
    Dieing for italian? Order a meal. Protien + vegetable. Get a small cup of pasta as a side order.
  • I believe in eatinga small healthy snack before going out to dinner or going to a party or holiday dinner- the reason is, if I am not super hungry, I can turn down seconds, and desserts and choose healthier options, but when I feel ravenously hungry, if a bread basket is in front of me, I find it hard to turn down.

    I don't go and NOT eat, I just Portion control myself- which most successful weight loss users say is the key: portion control.

    If I go hungry, I won't be able to only eat "half my meal" and then save the other half for the next day.

    Best wishes!
  • I do agree with BAWAGERS that if you are vegetarian Applebee's may not be the best choice, but for people who are not no-meat eaters (like myself...I stick to chicken and fish) I've found that they have fresh choices and they have nice dinners under 550 cals.
    I've also found that with many chain places they have a menu or nutritional info online. If I know I'm going some place, I go online first to choose what I'll have. This motivates me to stay on track the rest of the day, and I can track my future meal before I eat it. For me that takes away my anxiety when I see the 10 page menu. I've made my choice, it fits into my plan for the day, choose H20 for my drink and I'm set. I'm not a desert person so that's never a problem for me.

    Great Article!
  • Mararittm, I'm always baffled by the "eat before you go out to eat" advice, too. I can understand not starving yourself all day, but it seems dysfunctional to go out to eat when you're not hungry.
  • Whenever I eat out, I actually avoid the salads, because they're either Super-sized salads with not a good portion option, or they have more calories then my daily intake of food! Not because of the salad dressing, but because they have breaded, fried chicken on top, or specially-cooked ham or some other kind of meat or other ingredients that load on the calories. When asked if I could not have some of those ingredients in the salad, the waitress said they couldn't make a special request because they sold the dish as-is.

    It's only recently that, when going to one of the restaurants, I was able to order from the kids meals: much smaller potions, decent calories, and I can treat myself to something that I normally wouldn't be able to eat with the regular adult-sized meals.
    If you are vegetarian, DO NOT go to Applebee's.

    That is very interesting the only restaurant advertisement you had is for Applebee's.

    Just last night, we were choosing a restaurant to go to with our vegetarian friend. Applebee's was one of our options until our vegetarian friend said that is one of the only restaurants that would NOT work with her for her dietary needs. Therefore, we didn't go to Applebee's and probably won't in the future.
    We rarely eat out during the course of our regular routine and it's easy to track calories and stay disciplined as far as intake and exercise are concerned. I prefer to patronize restaurants that have the nutritional information on the menu or at least have some healthy choices such as Applebee's. My downfall is when on vacation or cruising my discipline goes out the window and I tend to splurge and then make up for it after we get home. I especially LOVE frozen custard which is practically a diet staple up north, mainly in Wis, Minn, Illinois. I appreciate all the good ideas to stay healthy eating focused that everyone has contributed.
  • I too remove the top bun from burgers. Load up on veggies on a sandwich, avoid mayo ketchup or oils. Subway now offers avocado. They are a super food and a good fat source. Order 1/2 and have them spread it thin for a "dressing" I love fast food but have lost 60# by modifying my fast food. If you must have french fries select about 10,or 15 of the shoe string type and throw the rest in the trash. It is either waste or wear it on your waist.
  • Good advice, but I so rarely eat out, I really want a special treat, so I may indulge in a few extra calories.
  • Being aware of the bread basket is my downfall. I love bread. period. So I try to limit my intake and often have better luck with the bread than I do with the mexican restaurants that serve the baskets of chips and salsa. Those chips I tend to snack on constantly while waiting for my meal and talking with my dinner mates. Ugh.
    Good things to keep in mind though the next time I go out to eat.

About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.