Nutrition Articles

85 Tips & Strategies for Dining Out

Take the Challenge Out of Dining

Many people stumble here as they make split-second decisions and rationalize away poor choices. But since you have a plan ahead of time, it should make it easier to stay on course. If you’re faced with a menu and no time to prepare, there are still a number of rules of thumb and tricks you can use.
  • Try to order first. Listening to everyone else’s choices can be pretty tempting.
  • Don’t ever be shy about asking questions or making requests. The food is every bit as important as the restaurant, the table and the setting, so make sure it’s what you want.
  • Try ordering menu items a la carte. Platters, combos and meals may come with extras you might not want. For example, a group of side items can make a great meal and fruit can make a delicious appetizer.
  • Ask about the size of the dish. This could be important information when watching calories.
  • You can add vegetables to just about anything (salad, pasta, soup, cheeseburgers) if you just ask.
  • Watch out for cheese, sour cream, gravies and special sauces.
  • Ask for your food not to be prepared with butter, cream sauces or oil
  • When in doubt, opt for brighter color. Most high-calorie, high-fat menu items are brown, beige, white or pale yellow (other than some desserts, of course).
  • Don’t feel rushed into making a hasty decision. Just because your server is in a hurry doesn’t mean you have to be. At the same time, if you’ve made a healthy decision, stop looking at the menu immediately.
  • Try ordering one course at a time. Order a healthy appetizer, but don’t order your soup or salad until you’re finished, then eventually your entrée. Sure, you may be starving now, but how will you feel in 20 minutes after the appetizer? Still feel like facing that pile of country fried chicken? Take your time, relax and enjoy.
When faced with a menu, the first reaction of many dieters is to skip right to the entrees without considering an appetizer. While they may believe they’re eating less this way, jumping right into the heavy stuff when hungry may actually load on more calories. To stave off hunger or the desire to binge, try to start with something other than the entrée.
  • The good news is that this “something” can come from anywhere on the menu, not just the Appetizer section. Look at other parts of the menu (Salads, Soups, side items, even breakfast items) for healthy starter options.
  • Some great starter options: fruit, melon, steamed seafood, smoked salmon.
  • The kitchen may be able to put together a small vegetable tray for you upon request.
  • Broth-based soups or consommé can be a tasty first course.
  • Avoid anything fried or breaded, and be wary of any item that comes with a dip.
  • If you do end up with something breaded, peel off the coating; much of the fat usually resides here.
  • Avocado is high in fat, so take it easy on the guacamole.
  • Use ketchup, mustard, bbq sauce, salsa or taco sauce instead of mayonnaise, tartar sauce or any creamy sauces or dips.
Often high in fiber, the right soups and salads can curb hunger and add a bunch of vegetables and nutrients to your meal. Much better to be filling up on leafy greens at the beginning of your meal after all, than munching on those last few dozen french fries on your plate.
  • Salad bars can be good or evil, depending on how you use them. Pass over the grated cheeses, eggs, creamy dressings, bacon, croutons, pasta salad, potato salad and macaroni salad, and stick with the staples of sliced carrots, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, snap peas, raisins, nuts, garbanzo beans, fruit and other fresh produce. That alone can be quite a meal.
  • Ask for extra vegetables on your house salad.
  • Spend a little extra and order the spinach salad or one with more vegetables. House salad greens often lack nutrients and taste and try to make up for it with more high-calorie toppings.
  • Always get your salad dressings on the side. Instead of pouring it on top, dip your fork in the dressing before taking a bite.
  • If you can’t find low-fat dressing options that you like, try a squeeze of lemon, or vinegar with a touch of oil.
  • “Meal” salads often have more toppings than veggies. Avoids salads piled with breaded chicken, olives, cheese, bacon, eggs and croutons.
  • Taco salads are notorious for seeming healthy, but actually being high in calories. Much better to start with a house salad and ask the kitchen to add on ingredients and taco flavorings.
  • Avoid creamy soups like chowder or bisque, which can be loaded with fat and calories. Instead, try broth-based soups, like minestrone, wonton, beef barley, gazpacho, consumme, tortilla, or the classics like chicken noodle or vegetable.
  • Bean or pea soups (like split pea, bean and ham, lentil, black bean or navy bean) have more calories, but are so packed with fiber and nutrients, and are so filling, that it may be worth it.
Continued ›
‹ Previous Page   Page 2 of 3   Next Page ›

Advertisement -- Learn more about ads on this site.

Member Comments

  • I found this somewhat helpful, but I rarely eat out (mostly special occasions), so I don't feel that bad splurging on a nice meal and I just adjust my intake at other meals those days...Also, most times I pick one of the "healthier" options, the lack of flavor isn't worth it. I used to work at a restaurant so I despise the people who want to make a bunch of substitutions. The most I do is get the dressing on the side. - 2/5/2016 12:12:45 PM
  • I found the article very helpful and detailed. I already do some of these things. I see no problem with asking for substitutions and omissions in the meal that I'm paying for... If they can't do it they will let you know. An extra tip for the server if they go the extra mile. I went out to eat 3 times this week which is unusual but if I "splurged" each time my diet would be shot and I'm eating for health reasons even more than weight loss. Thanks for all the tips. - 1/23/2016 11:29:10 AM
  • Reading the comments tells me that this advice didn't work for everyone but I have a lunch date coming up and really don't want to break the healthy streak I have going (19 days - WooHoo) so I have been preparing. The choice of restaurant was left up to me, so I looked up menus on line and even checked nutritional content of some dishes. So I know where I am going and what I will order and there will be no angst or guilt. And I'll make sure I'm not overly hungry and I'll suggest a table away from the kitchen. By taking these steps ahead of time I think I'll enjoy my companion's company even more. Win win. - 1/21/2016 11:47:41 AM
  • or you could just go out and enjoy yourself for once... once a month or every couple of months isn't going to hurt anything. if you're eating out daily or weekly, you're doing it wrong! you need to figure out why you're spending so much money and not cooking for yourself. - 1/18/2016 6:34:30 PM
  • I always take half home - at Olive Garden & the like, I take 2/3 home. Instead of overwhelming the wait staff, I ask for minimum changes, then take home whatever is outside my range. For some reason, wait staff wants you to have more, so the changes I ask for are all sauces on the side, including butter - that is easier on the wait staff than saying no sauces, etc. Then I either leave it there or take it home, but I won't eat it. For salads, I ask for lemon slices instead of dressing. I tip a little better when the changes are right-on. 8-) - 1/18/2016 12:58:11 AM
  • I know this article is a couple years old, but I truly found some of the suggestions here to be a little over the top:

    Going online to check the menu? Yes
    Calling ahead, requesting a specific table away from the kitchen, having the menu faxed or emailed to you at home, and giving them a list of your requirements (other than sever allergies of course) prior to going? Not likely.

    Yes most restaurants are able to accommodate special requests, but getting them to totally re-design dishes is not what they're there for - not your usual run-of-the-mill restaurant or pub, anyway.
    Asking for extra veggies on your salad, dressing on the side, or your protein to be grilled/baked/bro
    iled etc without any extra breading/oil/butt
    er is one thing.
    But having them re-design (and re-PRICE) an entirely new meal is very challenging, as most restaurants operate as the culinary version of an assembly line.

    If for instance you wanted to order the chicken picata, (a breaded chicken in butter lemon sauce over noodles), and you tell your server you want the chicken picata.
    BUT, you want the chicken grilled, not pan fried, you want it seasoned with herbs, not breading, you want the lemon butter sauce to be replaced with a tomato based sauce with veggies added to it, and you want your side dish to be something not even on the menu.....How do they price that for you?

    Asking a waiter to come up with melba toast when it's not something offered by the restaurant is a little over the top
    Ordering fresh fruit as an appy is a great idea - IF the restaurant has a fruit and cheese plate on their menu (even on their dessert menu), otherwise it's very unlikely that they'll be able to accommodate.

    Many of these tips are so difficult for your typical restaurants to accommodate, it's going to lead to a very frustrating and exhausting dining experience for you, your poor server, and the kitchen staff. - 7/8/2015 1:58:48 PM
  • AREED78
    My husband loves to go out, but I'm trying to lose some weight. I want to indulge when we go out, but still try to eat what's good. Skipping the bread is probably the best advice, those empty carbs taste great, but are not good for you. I usually get a steak when we go out, which is better than some things I could order. http://www.prime8
    2restaurantan - 3/16/2015 3:02:10 PM
  • ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
    ^^Linaspark! - 2/17/2015 7:46:50 PM
  • Some of the tips were helpful, but I was rather disappointed at the vagueness of the article. There are a lot of things that are not address: Individuals with plant-based eating lifestyles and individuals with food allergies are not addressed. - 9/18/2014 12:19:29 PM
  • I find it very frustrating as a vegetarian that non of these article even touch on the difficulties of attempting to eat out "veggie" style. They even say don't look I the vegetarian options as they are loaded on extra calories. Sooo am I supposed to just eat vegetables? I don't have the option to eat skinless chicken or fish as an entree and most broth based soups are beef or chicken. Can't lose for winning :( - 9/6/2013 8:05:15 AM
  • Great article. I don't eat out like that. I think I can cook at home and be better off than going spending money. - 8/10/2013 6:05:20 PM
  • taking half home for another meal = no cooking. - 7/9/2013 6:39:31 PM
  • LINASPARK: I absolutely agree with you!!! Thanks for not holding any punches! - 9/3/2012 12:14:43 AM
  • Some of the tips on here are good, but some aren't so great.

    I'd be embarrassed to dine out with someone who implemented a lot of these suggestions, like continually dipping a fork in dressing while eating in public or asking a waiter to come up with some melba toast or margarine. (And margarine isn't even healthier than butter.)

    Besides that, I don't think telling people to order boiled or steamed vegetables is a great tip. It's extremely rare that these are going to be worth having, taste-wise. If someone likes them, more power to him, but they're usually flavorless and flaccid. They're the kind of thing that make most people hate eating healthily and make them likely to steal piles of fries off their companions' plates.

    Just get a salad with lots of crisp, tasty vegetables and a little bit of light dressing. Or snatch up any vegetable sides that are grilled or stir-fried. If you can pair that with a healthy appetizer or soup, you've got a meal.

    And some of these suggestions just don't make sense as workable solutions. "Angel food cake is light--but it's not on many menus, and watch the sugar." What does "watch the sugar" even mean in this context? The person ordering it, assuming they're at one of the few restaurants that offers it, isn't going to be looking on at the recipe or preparation. Is it just meant to be a reminder that cake has sugar in it? Great, thanks for that insightful "tip." - 8/16/2012 6:08:37 PM
  • Good tips! - 7/29/2011 3:40:01 AM

x Lose 10 Pounds by March 19! Sign up with Email Sign up with Facebook
By clicking one of the above buttons, you're indicating that you have read and agree to SparkPeople's Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and that you're at least 18 years of age.