How to Eat Healthy When You Dine Out

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on July 06, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

You love to eat out, and you already know the basics: more salad, fewer fries, skip the bread basket, order dressing on the side. So now it’s time to take it a step further. Think of these tips next time you face a menu. 

“You deserve to be good to your body where you are no matter where you are eating,” says Keri Glassman, RD, owner of Nutritious Life in New York.

1. Give Into Cravings

You don’t have to completely resist them. Sometimes, it’s better to settle for a little bit of what you really want -- setting half aside as soon as it gets to your table to take home.

For instance, you might really want the crab cake that comes with a rich sauce. You try to talk yourself into something else that you don’t really want but that fits your calorie budget, like a greens-only side salad with a cup of soup. But you end up ordering a drink and dessert, banking on those calories you think you saved.

Did you really get a good deal, either in terms of pleasure or calories? Probably not.

Think about what you want, pick the items that give you the most satisfaction and nutrients for the fewest calories, and then downsize your serving.

2. Start With a Side

You know to look past the fried appetizers. But maybe you missed something on the menu.

Instead of a salad, which is often piled with cheese or drenched with dressing, order a side vegetable to start your meal. You often have several choices, simply prepared.

You could combine a couple of sides into a veggie plate. Or make appetizer your main meal, especially if it’s got protein. Many restaurant sizes have doubled from what they were 20 years ago. “[Appetizers] are often the right portion of what protein should be,” Glassman says.

3. Make Friends With Your Server

“Interview the waiter,’” Glassman says. Ask how dishes are made so you can make an informed choice. Chefs know that butter and salt taste great and often include them in dishes that sound innocent.

You can also ask the waiter to have the kitchen divide up your starter, such as a salad, before it even comes to the table. That way, everyone can enjoy it and split the calories with you.

4. You First

When you eat out with friends or family, be the first to place your order. That way, if someone else decides to indulge, you already made your choice. When you make a healthy choice, it influences them in a good way. 

You can also browse the menus online at many places and pick what you’ll have before you get there.

5. Have a Plan for Drinks

The first thing most people order is a drink. Break that pattern.

Whether it’s sweet tea, soda, or that extra glass of wine, calories from beverages add up. So ask for water first. Drink it first. You’ll fill up (which can take the edge off your hunger) and it naturally has no calories.

After that, you can splurge on one other drink, if you still want it.

6. Shift Your Attitude

“If you eat out three times per week, you can’t have the attitude of, ‘I deserve it,’” Glassman says. 

It’s easy to give in to that feeling, especially when you’re very busy, rushed, or feeling stressed or emotional.

Eating out is still a treat. But it’s not just about the food. “The indulgence is someone else cooking for you,” Glassman says.

Show Sources


United States Healthful Food Council.

U.S. Census Bureau News: “Advance Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Service.”

Keri Glassman, RD, CDN, owner, Nutritious Life.
ChooseMyPlate: “Tips for Eating Healthy When Eating Out.”

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: “Portion Distortion.”

American Heart Association: “Deciphering the Menu.”

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