Restaurant meals can be a nice treat, but with so many calorie-laden options and overly generous portions sizes, it can be easy to make poor food choices. The good news is that even if you’re following a specific diet, trying to lose weight, or just eating healthier, you don’t have to avoid restaurants. Follow these simple guidelines to choose healthy menu options. You’ll enjoy your meal while sticking to your nutrition goals!
Most restaurants offer their full menu on the Internet, and some even offer nutrition information. Take a few minutes to do your homework and scope out the healthiest choices for your diet ahead of time. Having a game plan can help prevent you from making impulsive, unhealthy food choices later when you’re hungry and ready to order.
It may be tempting to treat yourself to a soda, milkshake, or alcoholic beverage when dining out. These drinks are full of calories and sugar, which increases the total calories you consume with your meal. Your best bet is zero-calorie water or unsweetened iced tea.
Most menu appetizers — think chicken wings, nachos, and fried finger foods — are high in fat and calorie-dense. Skip these and choose a side salad or vegetable-based soup if you prefer an appetizer. Eating a salad or soup before your meal may help you eat less overall.
Carbohydrates can add up quickly at restaurants. An easy way to cut carbs is to avoid the bread basket.
If you’re ordering a burger, ask if the restaurant can swap the bun for a lettuce wrap. If you really want a sandwich, try eating it open-faced and eat only half the bread or bun.
The standard side with most burgers and sandwiches is chips or French fries — both high in carbohydrates, fat, sodium, and calories. Try substituting a side salad or steamed vegetables. They’ll fill you up with fiber and have fewer calories.
Restaurant salads can be sneaky. Salads are usually a healthy menu choice — if you know how to modify them. Entrée salads can quickly climb the calorie and fat charts when topped with creamy dressings, cheese, bacon, croutons, dried fruit, and fried foods, like onion strings.
Choose salads that include greens topped with fresh vegetables and a bit of healthy fat like avocado, olives, or raw nuts. Top with a lean protein source, like grilled chicken, fish, or steak, if desired. Don’t be afraid to ask to modify salad toppings!
As for dressing, oil-based dressings, like balsamic vinaigrette, tend to be healthier than creamy dressings like ranch. Always ask for dressing on the side so you can control how much you use and how many calories it adds to your salad.
Avoid foods that are described on the menu as crispy, crunchy, battered, breaded, panko, and tempura — all synonymous with high-fat fried foods. Look for items described as grilled, baked, roasted, poached, and steamed. These are lower-fat and lower-calorie cooking methods preferred for protein and sides.
Restaurant portions are typically larger than standard serving sizes, sometimes by double or triple the amount! Larger portion sizes usually result in increased food and calorie consumption. Enjoy a portion of your meal and plan to take the rest home. Bonus: You’ll get multiple meals for the price of one!
With a little bit of planning and a few easy substitutions, you can enjoy dining out while still sticking with your healthy eating plan.
Ana Reisdorf is registered dietician and writer for Walgreens. She enjoys helping readers make healthier diet and lifestyle choices when dining out or at home. You can find a variety of vitamins to supplement your healthy eating plan at Walgreens.com.