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Top 10 Tips To Making Healthy Choices While Dining Out

In America, we love to dine out! There’s a certain allure to exploring new restaurants, unique dishes, and refreshing beverages with friends and family. Which is why at 310, we definitely believe you should enjoy the experience of having some meals away from home. 

However, you also need to be prepared, because it’s very easy to slip into poor eating habits while dining out. And depending on how often you do it, it can start to take a toll on your health, along with derailing your weight loss efforts.

With growing plate sizes, sugar-laden menu items, and sneaky hidden ingredients, it can sometimes be quite a challenge to find – and decide upon – nutritious menu options. So, to help you stick to your weight loss and healthy lifestyle goals in the midst of tempting food items while eating out, we’ve put together a list of our top tips for success!

10 Tips For Eating Healthy While Dining Out

1) Choose The Location Wisely

People cheering during healthy dinner, sitting at rustic table

One of the hardest parts about eating out while following a healthy dietary plan is choosing the location. While you may be craving a burger with a side of fries and a soda, the right plan ahead of time allows you to enjoy the fun of dining out, without the junk.

  • Check out the menu: Take a few minutes to scan the menus at restaurants before you leave the house — and pick one with options that can fit into a clean diet plan.  
  • Avoid all-you-can-eat buffets: Most people are pretty bad at guessing proper portion sizes. At an all-you-can-eat-buffet, temptation is at every corner and it’s way too easy to load up on more than you need (and all the foods you shouldn’t be eating!). 
  • Make your decision ahead of time: It’s easy to forget all about your diet when you walk into a restaurant and smell the delicious scents of cheesy mac n’ cheese or sizzling burgers. Choosing your food before you even step into the restaurant ensures that it's your brain and not your stomach making the decision.

2) Have a Healthy Snack Beforehand

There are plenty of times when you can’t control the location of the restaurant – such as at a friend’s birthday dinner or corporate event. However, you can control what you eat before you walk out the door! Having a tasty, nutritious snack before going out can help you make better choices at the restaurant – such as not filling up on the bread bowl.

  • Enjoy a meal replacement shake: A delicious meal replacement shake can help you crush your cravings before you get in front of the tempting menu. 
  • Grab a piece of fruit: A quick healthy snack such as a piece of fruit loaded with fiber is the perfect go-to for curbing your cravings. 
  • Start with a salad: If you don’t have time to grab a snack before arriving at the restaurant, order a soup or salad to arrive before your dinner. By spacing out your food and going for the healthy stuff first, you can stop yourself from eating too much of your main meal. 

 3) Build Exercise into your Outing

Glasses of cocktails on bar background

By making physical activity, like walking, part of your dining out experience you can fit in a little bit of calorie-burning exercise along with dinner! 

  • Walk to the restaurant: Park your car far away from the restaurant or choose a spot close by where you live! 
  • Take a stroll to continue the evening: Don’t want the dinner to ever end? Continue the evening by taking a stroll as a group to walk off dinner. This helps continue the conversation while working in some exercise. 

4) Know What You’re Ordering (And Don’t Be Afraid to Ask!)

Cooking methods like grilled, steamed, broiled, roasted, or poached are typically good options with fewer calories. Items that are breaded, fried, sautéed, or barbecued tend to be less healthy. That being said, sometimes it’s hard to tell how nutritious a menu item is!

  • Pay attention to the descriptors: A meal's description can say a lot about how healthy it is. Look out for the language we mention above but also things like “crunchy”, “crispy”, “pan-fried”, “creamy”, etc. These can reveal those not-so-great-for-you menu options! 
  • Ask how a menu item is prepared: Don’t be afraid to ask your waiter how a menu option is cooked or prepared. It’s much better than getting your meal and feeling disappointed because it’s less healthy than you thought.
  • Look for the whole grains: Find those dishes featuring whole grains like quinoa, barley, brown rice, bulgur, oats, or whole wheat. Or ask your server if it’s possible to make a substitution! 
  • Don’t be fooled by dietary labels: A lot of menus now include labels like “gluten-free”, “vegan”, or “sugar-free” which can fool you into letting your guard down. They might be healthier, but they’re not guaranteed to be healthier. 

 5) Order First

Healthy Asian Chicken Lettuce Wrap with Carrots

Even if you have your meal perfectly planned out in your head, you may be influenced by others at your table if they place their orders first. Though it may sound silly, studies are showing that your menu choices might be greatly influenced by what others around you are getting. Be the one to set the example by going first instead of following the crowd!

  • Make your own choice: When you have your own health goals it’s important to make your own healthy eating decisions. Groupthink at a restaurant can sometimes lead you down an unhealthy path. This is why knowing what you want ahead of time and ordering first are both great strategies for reducing any temptation.  
  • Communicate ahead of time: If you know you’re going out with a group that’s notorious for pressuring you into making bad food choices, communicate your health goals with them before you sit down at the restaurant. This way it’s not a surprise to anyone that you’re looking to make healthier choices, and they’re less likely to pressure you in the moment. 

6) Limit Your Portion sizes

It seems that restaurant portion sizes just get bigger and bigger! And we’re so accustomed to eating what’s put in front of us that at a restaurant it’s incredibly easy to eat way more than what your body needs. This can derail any healthy eating plan!  

  • Ask for half portions: If you know a meal is going to be one of those super-size-me extra-large plates then ask your server if they do half portion sizes instead. 
  • Share a large meal with a friend: Splitting an entree with a friend is a great way to limit your calorie intake if a restaurant has large portions. 
  • Pack up half your meal ahead of time: Ask your waiter to either pack up half your meal before it arrives or ask for a take-out box before your food leaves the kitchen. This removes your temptation to eat the whole thing — plus now you have leftovers for tomorrow!
  • Order 2 appetizers instead of a full meal: Sometimes a smaller serving of two appetizers is better than a larger serving of one meal. But this doesn’t mean ordering two servings of mozzarella sticks! Make sure you’re still keeping it healthy. 

7) Customize or Make Your Own Meal

Variety of homemade sauces and salad dressings in jars

When trying to eat out in a more nutritious way, you want to find the perfect balance between indulging your cravings and making healthy choices. Sometimes to strike that balance, you have to create your own meals.

  • Create your own meal: Combine an appetizer with a salad, swap a creamy sauce for a vegetable-based sauce, or ask for less cheese. Sometimes a healthy meal just doesn’t exist on the menu and you need to get a bit creative. Most restaurants are open to customizations, so don’t be afraid to ask your waiter what’s possible!  
  • Make healthy swaps: Swap out the parts of a menu item that don’t fit into your diet. A good example of this is a bun-less burger or replacing a side of fries with fresh fruit.
  • Seek out the veggies: You always hear that you need to get more veggies in your day for a reason. And the same rule applies while eating out. Vegetables are a great source of fiber, which helps keep you full and provides abundant nutrients. Plus, they’re low in calories. 
  • Skip the bread bowl: We all love a good bread bowl! But when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet it’s everyone’s kryptonite. Instead of loading up on bread and butter let your waiter know you’re not interested. If you’re with friends who want bread, ask them to take what they want and then have your waiter remove the temptation from the table. 
  • Ask for sauce on the side: All that sauce can add a lot of extra fat, calories, and sugar to your meal. By getting your sauce on the side you can control how much of it you use. Plus, you may get your meal and realize you don’t even need the sauce at all, or you only need a small amount!

8) Don’t Drink Your Calories

We know the house specialty margarita is often tempting. And honestly, a bit of indulgence in this area, especially for special occasions, is completely understandable! But, for an ordinary bite out, why fill up on high-calorie drinks with little nutritional value?

  • Opt for water: Water promotes hydration and supports your health and weight loss goals. Add in a lemon or lime wedge and you’ve got your hydration and flavor ready to go!
  • Skip the soda: If you want something other than water try to skip the sugary choices like sweetened iced tea, lemonade, or soda. Unsweetened ice tea, hot tea, low-fat milk, sparkling water, or coffee (black or with a little cream) are also good choices.

9) Practice Mindful Eating

Young Smiling Girl Eating Salad

If you’ve never heard of mindful eating, it’s a great practice to try with all your meals – especially when you’re trying to eat healthy while eating out. Many people rush through their meals, barely even tasting what they’re eating. But mindful eating is all about enjoying the entire experience of your food… the smell, the taste, the way you feel, and any thoughts that arise as you eat it. Doing this can even help you feel satisfied sooner resulting in fewer calories.

  • Savor the flavor: As you’re enjoying the delicious healthy dish that you’ve strategically customized or picked from the menu, take some time to slow down and appreciate the food sitting in front of you. Put your fork down between bites, take a big whiff of your food to notice the aromas, pay attention to the flavors as you’re chewing. All this helps train self-control and greater appreciation for the food you put in your body. 
  • Chew your food slowly: This one’s a hard one for those fast eaters out there but research shows that eating your food slowly can help you eat less. So instead of inhaling, use the practice of mindful eating to try and slow down each bite. 

10) Skip or Split Dessert

We aren’t suggesting that you never indulge in a small portion of your favorite dessert now and then. But for times when you feel empowered to skip the extra calories and sugar, there are many healthier “sweet treat” options that can still satisfy.

  • Choose fruit or a low-calorie option: Order something light like a bowl of fruit with plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt or a cappuccino. 
  • Split your dessert: When you just need that double fudge brownie ask a friend to split it with you. This way you cut the calories while still getting to indulge in a sweet treat! 
  • Enjoy a healthy treat at home instead: Another option is to have a delicious meal replacement shake that tastes just like a dessert when you get home from eating out – without the guilt!

By using the tips in this article, we hope you feel more in control of your choices the next time you’re trying to eat healthy while dining out. Remember, there’s a time to indulge and a time to stick to your clean dietary plan. Make a plan for success when you want to stay on your diet, and you’ll feel great after every meal!

 

Written by:

Megan Elizabeth Clark

310 Nutrition Content Writer 

Megan Elizabeth Clark is a freelance copywriter and content marketing specialist in the health, wellness, and fitness industry. As a NASM certified personal trainer and RYT-200 certified yoga instructor Megan is passionate about using her fitness background and writing skills to provide authentic, actionable, and accurate information to the world [...]