6 Tips For Eating Healthy at Restaurants

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Posted by Jill Whalen | Posted in Food, Healthy Eating, Nutrition | Posted on 06-05-2014

Before I changed my lifestyle, got healthy and lost 25 lbs., I ate out pretty much every night. Not only that, I’d generally eat my leftovers from the night before for my lunch. And because I didn’t know better, those meals weren’t generally very healthy ones.Tips For Healthy Restaurant Dining

These days, I always prepare my own healthy breakfasts and lunches at home, and cook dinner a couple of times a week, but I still eat dinner out the rest of the nights. Though I’m no longer trying to lose weight, it’s very important to me to eat healthy foods as much as possible. I eat almost no refined sugars and keep my grain consumption to a minimum. If/when I do have grains I prefer to stick with something like quinoa or brown rice as opposed to pasta and breads. (This is not to say I don’t eat the others at all, I just try to have them maybe once or twice a week rather than every day and/or with every meal.)

This makes eating at restaurants a bit of a challenge, if not a temptation!

That said, I have learned a few tips along the way that can make dining at restaurants a more healthy experience than it might otherwise be. The trick is to be mindful of the fact that most restaurants have no problem with you making some substitutions here and there when necessary.

Here are 6 tips I’ve learned for eating wisely, mindfully and healthfully when dining out:

1. Choose your restaurants wisely. Certain types of restaurants will naturally have healthier foods than others. For instance, Thai restaurants generally have tons of scrumptious meals that are full of fresh veggies and lean grilled meats. Indian restaurants and Middle Eastern / Mediterranean restaurants do as well (just try not to eat too much of all the delicious flat breads!).

On the other hand, many Italian restaurants (especially the old-school traditional ones) have few healthy options. Plus they’re full of tempting not-so-healthy pasta, pizzas and bread.

2. Check out starters or ala carte sides of healthy vegetables. Some restaurants (usually the more upscale ones) will have some really interesting small vegetable dishes that can be ordered before your meal or in addition to it. I’ve seen this at some of the finer Italian restaurants that aren’t all about pasta, but also at other types of restaurants that offer ala carte selections. Some even offer “deals” where you can choose any 3 or 5 sides for a particular price. Recently my husband, son and I ate at a local Moroccan establishment which had this option and we split a whole bunch of tasty small dishes such as hummus, fava beans, stuffed grape leaves, etc.

3. Substitute an additional vegetable or salad rather than a potato, rice or pasta dish. Many restaurants provide you with a choice of a potato (baked, mashed, fries) or pasta to go with your main entree. However, if you ask, you can usually request a vegetable or a salad as a substitute. Thankfully, many restaurants are now even making those healthy substitutions an option right on the menu. But even when they’re not, don’t be shy to speak up and request it. Double veggies FTW!

4. Order grilled meats, chicken or fish, rather than fried. I’m amazed at how much fried food has seemed to have taken over most menus these days. (I’m sure it’s been like this for quite awhile, I just didn’t notice when that was what I wanted to order!) While most restaurants will also have some grilled options, if a particular dish you would like to have contains fried food, simply ask your server to substitute it with the equivalent grilled option instead. You can easily do this with most chicken dishes such as buffalo chicken, chicken parmesan, etc.

5. Just say no to the bread. This is an obvious, but difficult one. Especially at places that have really delicious bread or an awesome spread to put on it. If you have the willpower, tell your server right away that you don’t want any bread so that it’s not tempting you at your table. Or if you’d like to have a little, then just make sure they only give you 1 piece per person and obviously don’t ask for more! It’s not going to kill you to have a piece of bread, but do think about whether you really want/need it.

6. Order sauces and dressings on the side. Most people who’ve ever dieted know the dressing on the side trick, but you can do the same thing with sauces. I’m amazed at how often dishes will come dripping in tons and tons of unhealthy fat or sugar-laden sauce. For instance, one restaurant we frequent has some awesomely healthy Thai lettuce wraps, but the grilled chicken is covered in a sweet sauce, as well as a few other sauces. I simply order the sauces on the side and use very little of the sweet one, and a reasonable amount of the other, more spicy ones.

I know how easy it is to be tempted by foods at restaurants that you wouldn’t normally eat when you’re at home. I certainly give into some of the temptations, some of the time as well. My goal is to use the tips above as much as possible to eat as healthy as possible whenever I can. After all, I will generally enjoy the healthy foods as much as the unhealthy ones…sometimes even more (especially because it makes me feel good).

What tips have you found that have helped you to make more healthy choices when dining out? Please leave your thoughts below!

–Jill

CONTACT JILL WHALEN to learn how she may help you be the best you can be.


Jill is the author of Victim of Thought: Seeing Through the Illusion of Anxiety


Jill personally mentors individuals, coaches, small business owners, leaders, groups and organizations to help them uncover their natural well-being and happiness so that they can operate from a clearer state of mind. This in turn has the ability to take their lives and businesses to a higher level.


Jill is also a mentor within the "Primal Happiness Thrive Community" and a faculty member of "Three Principles Supermind." Her blog, What Did You Do With Jill? is a personal account of what she's learned throughout her personal transformational journey.


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I’ve found that restaurant portion sizes are out of control in a lot of places. At a steakhouse where we ate recently, the *smallest* portion of one of their specialty steaks was 8 ounces — that’s at least *two* servings — and the portions went up from there. It takes willpower, and I don’t always manage to pull it off, but I generally *try* to divide those super-big portions in half. Eat one half and take the rest home to use for lunch or dinner another day. Not so much as a “weight loss” thing, but as a sustainability thing. There’s just no reason to eat that much food at one sitting.

Thanks Diane! I totally forgot about that one. Often my husband will even get a take out box in advance and put half his meal in from the start. (Not that he needs any self control like the rest of us do. He’s one of those strange people who can stop eating when he’s full no matter how yummy it is!)

The best trick I’ve found — and it works everywhere– is to split the meal with a Co-diner. You may have to compromise every now and then, but it gets you to try new foods, and your meal automatically weighs in at 1/2 the calories. And your bill is cut in 1/2! It’s a win win for everyone except the restaurant, so we always tip 20% so the staff gets a decent tip. Amazingly, we never leave hungry since portion sizes are so large in America.

Definitely a good one, thanks, Sherry!

You’ve done so well and kept it up over a long time. These are some great tips. The hard thing is taking the healthy choice in the heat of the moment (instead of going for the tempting garlic bread with cheese). Even after a couple of health scares, I’m still struggling. How do you keep motivated?

Thanks, Ann! You know, that’s a really good question, which probably deserves its own post. However, the short answer is that I believe for me it has incrementally over time become a lifestyle change. I never thought of myself as “dieting” (it’s not something I ever did, in fact). And over time, everything that I was doing became not something I had to do, but something I wanted to do. Which is where the name of this blog is so true. Most days when I think about it, I can’t really understand what happened to me! For my exercise, I LOVE doing all of it and can’t wait until my next yoga class. And I am disappointed if he goes easy on us! So for eating, it’s really the same thing. I enjoy eating the healthy foods as they taste good to me and I know they’re nourishing my body. Once you get your body healthy, it’s also a lot easier to listen to what it wants. Generally before I eat or order anything, I think about what my body is craving at that moment. And it’s very rarely something that’s not good for me. I also don’t do any sort of strict diet. Like absolutely no eating whatever. So if I feel like a piece of cheesecake or having some pizza, I just have it. But I also know that my body knows it’s going to generally get lots of healthy stuff, so the occasional not so healthy is not a problem for it.

Splitting the meal with the Co-eater is a very useful thing! And what I really miss in many restaurants is the information on calories in the dish! It would make life a bit easier for me.

When I was counting calories that was something I always wished for as well, Olga.