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You ordered the squash casserole at your favorite restaurant instead of the french fries; your spouse opted for the eggplant parmesan over the T-bone steak. Three cheers for both of you!

Eating out at your favorite fast food place or sit-down restaurant probably doesn't give you many chances to feel virtuous. But when you select a vegetable entree instead of a meat and potato-heavy meal, you deserve some kudos, right?

Well, not always. Give yourself an "A" for effort, but choosing veggies isn't always the best choice when dining out. As a matter of fact, sometimes it can be an outright diet disaster.

To understand why, WebMD talked to the pros, dietitians who shared their tips on what to watch for when eating out, then offered helpful hints on how you can you make healthier restaurant and fast food choices.

Healthy Restaurant and Fast Food Eats

Butter, cheese, fat, fried. For such small words they can sure have a big impact on the meals you enjoy when eating out -- even when you choose the veggie options.

That's because it's just as easy to load up vegetarian items with fat, sodium, and cholesterol as it is non-veggie options, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "Vegetarian does not mean low-calorie."  

Frying in oils or butter, breading, sauces, cheese, and large portions; they're all just a few of the ways good-for-you veggies can turn into diet destroyers.

"Eggplant parmesan, for example, is often egg-washed and batter-coated, pan- or deep-fried and then loaded with tons of cheese," says Gerbstadt. This means your veggie entrée can sometimes weigh in with more total fat, calories, and sodium than a modest-sized serving of lean roasted or broiled meat, as the eye-opening table below shows.

 

Dinner

Calories

Fat (g)

Saturated Fat (g)

Sodium (mg)

Carbs (g)

Fiber (g)

Eggplant Parmigiana

(Entrée size portion)

850

35

10

1,900

98

19

Black beans and rice

(1 cup of each)

412

2.5

<1

1,055

80

12

6 ounces filet mignon; medium baked potato; 1 tablespoon sour cream

320

8

4

85

27

 

2

 

 

Of course, many vegan entrées (meals that don't use any animal products, including dairy) can be low in calories and fat, and high in fiber and vitamins, but lacto-ovo vegetarian restaurant meals -- often made with dairy-based foods like cream and cheese -- can hide "sneaky calories," Gerbstadt tells WebMD.

It's not just hot veggie entrees that can fool you; even a salad bar meal may be mined with calorie bombs if you're not paying attention. Potato and pasta salads are often loaded with fatty mayo, while extras like fried croutons, bacon bits, and olives can pile on the calories. Then there's the ultimate sneaky salad setback: Dressing. Just one ladle of creamy blue cheese, Caesar, or ranch can add a whopping 300 calories.

With all those hidden calories waiting to do harm to your healthy eating plan, what can you do?