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12 Hints for Healthier Eating When Eating Out

Throw your diet a life vest when dining out. These easy ideas from healthy eating pros can help you get started.

  • Choose the right restaurants. When you're eating out, choose places you know offer plenty of healthy, fresh foods. While that doesn't mean you have to forgo fast food every time, focus on eateries that offer fresh options such as cafeterias or look for restaurants with salad bars, then start your meal with plenty of fresh vegetables.  
  • Avoid portion distortion. No food is off limits if you keep portions small. Share an entrée. Order an appetizer as your main course. Split a small, rich dessert.  
  • Scan your menu for high-fat hints. Is your veggie appetizer or entrée described as breaded, batter-dipped, or tempura? All of those terms mean one thing: fried. And fried means fatty. You'll also want to avoid foods described as crispy, creamy, breaded, béarnaise, alfredo, or au gratin. Pick menu items described as flame-cooked, roasted, grilled, or broiled, as well as steamed, poached, or in-its-own-juices. All of these terms usually mean a lower calorie meal.  
  • Think outside the veggie box. "Make a quarter of your plate a veggie-tized entrée," suggests David Grotto RD, LDN, former spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life. Think veggie burger, bean burrito, or a lightened eggplant parmesan.  
  • Savor the right sauces. Avoid buttery, creamy veggie soups, stews, and sauces, and instead choose vegetables cooked in wine, or in stock-based sauces. Not sure how your veggie entrée is made? Ask your server.  
  • Cut the fat. Really want that cheesy dish or one that's floating in a cream sauce? Ask if the kitchen will halve the cheese or sauce. Or "order the sauce on the side and drizzle some over the entrée," Grotto says, this way you control the flavor and the calories.  
  • E is for effort: No matter which entrée you order, try picking something that takes a little effort to eat, which can slow you down and help you eat less: Think sautéed artichokes, corn on the cob, or shrimp still in the shell.  
  • Get the most nutritious bang for your buck. Choosing a side salad? Order one made with rich, dark greens like spinach, chard, or romaine. Do the same at the salad bar and then select better-for-you proteins like hard-cooked eggs, lean meats, beans, tofu, or cottage cheese.  
  • Dress down your salad. Use fat-free or low-fat dressing in small amounts. You can make the rich taste of your favorite creamy dressing stretch further by using half as much and then adding a touch of oil and vinegar.  
  • Save that sandwich. Ordering a fast food sub? Amp up your nutrition on the go by skipping the mayonnaise and other fatty sauces, and go for extra veggies, flavored with mustard or vinaigrette.  
  • Learn to set limits. When restaurant eating, make sure your portion fits on a standard dinner plate, suggests Grotto. "Are you being served on China or a platter that could feed all of China?" If you'll be dining out at an eatery specializing in massive meals, ask wait staff for a carryout container at the start of your meal, Grotto says, then wrap half of everything except for the veggies.
  • Choose comfort foods occasionally. Really want some fries or are you craving the comfort of mac and cheese? Indulge your desire now and again, but order fatty favorites like these from the kids' menu.

Try a few of these quick tips the next time you're dining out and you'll not only rescue good-for-you meals drowning in creams and sauces, you can even get a few of the five servings of veggies you need daily. Now that's tasty.