Healthy Living

Jessica Explains How to Eat Out Healthy at a Restaurant

Mar 22 2024

The following piece was written by Jessica Romeo, MHHS, RDN, LD, a registered dietician and community health educator in our Youngstown market.

Knowing how to eat out healthy can be a challenging.

A restaurant can be a fun and enjoyable experience, but it can also be a hard place to make healthy choices. With tempting menus filled with rich and indulgent dishes, it’s easy to stray from your health goals.

However, with a little planning and mindfulness, you can still enjoy delicious meals while making nutritious choices!

Here are some of my simple tips to help you eat healthy when dining out.

First, check the menu in advance.

Many restaurants now offer their menu options online. Take advantage of this by checking out the menu before you go. Look for dishes that are grilled, baked or steamed rather than fried. Also, look for dishes with plenty of vegetables and lean proteins, like chicken, fish or tofu. Some restaurants even have a healthy options section in their menus.

I find that making my meal decision before I arrive helps me avoid making an unhealthy choice at the restaurant when I’m hungry.  

Also, watch portion sizes.

Restaurant portion sizes are often much larger than what you would eat at home. To avoid overeating, consider splitting a meal with someone else in your party or asking for a half portion. You can also ask the server to box up half of your meal before it’s served, so you’re not tempted to overeat.

Be sure to choose wisely.

When ordering, try to select dishes that are rich in nutrients. Look for choices when eating out that include whole grains, such as brown rice or quinoa, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Avoid dishes that are heavy on cheese, cream or butter, as these can add unnecessary calories, fat and sodium.

Next, be mindful of the extras.

Be cautious with extras like sauces, salad dressings and toppings. These can add a significant amount of added sugar, calories and fat to your meal. Ask for sauces and dressings on the side so you can control how much you use. You can also ask for lighter options, like olive oil and vinegar.

Consider starting with a salad.  

I’ve noticed that at restaurants when I start my meal with a salad, it helps me fill up on fiber-rich vegetables and reduces my likelihood of overeating during my main course.

If you try this tip, make sure to choose a salad with plenty of colorful vegetables and lean protein toppings, like grilled chicken or shrimp. Also, be mindful of high-fat toppings like cheese and creamy dressings.

Order water to drink.

Instead of reaching for sugary sodas or alcoholic beverages, drink water. Not only will this save you calories, but it will also help you stay hydrated and avoid consuming empty calories from drinks. Plus, it will save you on your bill, too!

It’s OK to ask for modifications.

Don’t be afraid to ask for modifications to suit your dietary preferences or restrictions. Most restaurants are happy to accommodate special requests. Whether you’re asking for a dish to be prepared without certain ingredients or substituting a side dish for a healthier option, don’t hesitate to speak up.

Select a healthier dessert option.

It’s OK to indulge occasionally, but try to practice moderation. If you’re craving a dessert, consider sharing it with your dining companions or opting for a smaller portion. Many restaurants now offer mini desserts or lighter options, like fruit plates.

Listen to your body when you are eating.

Pay attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Eat slowly and savor each bite, allowing yourself to feel satisfied without overeating. Stop eating when you feel comfortably full, even if there’s food left on your plate.

And most important of all, be kind to yourself!

Remember that eating out should be an enjoyable experience. So, don’t ruin that by stressing too much about making perfect choices every time. If you indulge in a less-than-healthy meal, forgive yourself and move on. Focus on making balanced choices most of the time, but don’t forget to enjoy the occasional treat.

Hopefully my tips have helped teach you how to eat out healthy so that the next time you find yourself at a restaurant, you can make healthier choices!

Learn about the nutrition services we provide at Mercy Health.

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