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.
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Member Comments

  • 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
  • Lots of great tips here! A lot to remember, but putting them in place and using them; makes them a habit and habits are hard to break! So, this is a great article! - 6/9/2010 10:52:51 PM
  • Great article...the challenge will be to remember when dining out? But, as stated, having a plan beforehand can be the key.
    - 3/14/2010 8:44:32 PM
  • This is a great article, especially since I eat out a lot. The only thing I disagree with is the comment that steaks are fattier than roasts. If you order the right steak, it is definitely leaner than many roasts. - 2/24/2010 12:56:16 PM
  • LEESAH76
    Applebee's has a great menu of healthy options. The under 550 calorie menu is so good. The honey dijon chicken with mushrooms, steamed veggies and roasted potatoes is my favorite. There are also several weight watcher choices with the points value on the menu! - 2/16/2010 11:56:45 PM
  • I do try to eat healthier options when I go out to eat, but I do like my pasta with alfredo sauce once in a while. Anytime I eat out I always ask for a to go container with my food. That way I have lunch or dinner tomorrow. - 9/29/2009 4:44:16 PM

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