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How to Make Eating Out Healthy

by Lindsay Allen September 22, 2022 0 Comments

Seniors having lunch

Is a cheeseburger, fries, and soda your idea of a gourmet meal? If so, you may need to rethink your choices when eating out. Restaurant foods are meant to look, smell and taste great, and that means nutrition can sometimes fall by the wayside. But the great news is that many restaurants, including fast food joints, offer healthy choices and other low-fat items with just a few changes. We love eating out and there is no reason why we can't make it healthy! Keep reading to learn ways you can make eating out healthy.

Why Eating Out is Often Unhealthy

Portion Distortion: Larger servings can lead to weight gain

Food portions at restaurants have gotten larger in recent years. Some may provide enough food for 2 or 3 people. This has contributed to a national obesity problem, with about two-thirds of adults being overweight. You have likely heard to ask for half portions or share with your fellow diner. But given today’s portions that still may not be enough. Use these common tips to help reduce portions when eating out:

  • Visualize your plate at home and try to replicate that when you eat out.
  • Order from the appetizer or kids menu if possible.
  • Don’t eat it by yourself – share a meal with the table.
  • Ask your server to box up at least half before bringing it to the table.

How to Make Eating Out Healthy

These days you should be able to find healthy options almost everywhere. But it is best to know what you're getting into before you head out and hit the temptations head-on. Use these tips from start to finish to help you stay on track!  

High blood pressure? Try incorporating these drinks to lower it.

Planning Ahead

  • Make a reservation so you are not waiting around. Your hunger may kick in during a long wait and you may be tempted by what is being served around you. 
  • Many restaurants offer their menus online, including nutrition information. Check it out beforehand so your choices are ready to go.
  • Make physical activity a part of the dining experience. Try to choose a walkable restaurant. You can get your meal, a few minutes of activity, and avoid parking. 
  • If you are hungry before you leave, grab a small snack like a piece of fruit. At the restaurant, order a broth-based soup or small salad to stave off hunger while you wait.
  • Plan to have lighter meals during the day. 
  • Commit to eat slowly. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the message that you are no longer hungry. Fast eaters often are overeaters. 

At the Restaurant

  • Balance your meal with foods from all food groups - lean protein, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Try to eat these foods regularly to help fight fatigue.
  • Skip the sugary drinks and opt for water. Staying hydrated with water helps you avoid unwanted calories, regulate blood sugar, and much more.
  • For sandwich toppings, stick with veggies - lettuce, tomato, avocado, and onion; if using condiments choose ketchup, mustard, relish, or salsa.
  • Complete your meal with a healthy side - salad, vegetables, or fruit. 
  • Skip sauces or ask for them on the side. Then you can dip or skip it altogether!
  • Don’t be afraid to ask – what’s in a dish, how is it prepared, and are there healthier substitutions available?
  • Ask for it to be prepared with less oil, no butter, or no added salt.
  • Ask for skinless broiled chicken instead of fried.
  • Ask for low-fat milk instead of cream for your coffee.
  • If they say no substitutions, no problem! Stick to your plan and ask that the fries be left off the plate, peel the skin off the chicken, skip the butter, and/or opt for water or tea.

Eating out a big part of traveling, here are some more ways to prioritize your health while on vacation or away for work.

How to Modify Your Favorites

Here are a few tips to make commonly ordered foods better for your waistline.
Follow these healthy eating tips:

Pizza

  • Order a thin crust.
  • Skip the meat and load it with vegetables.
  • Ask for extra sauce and half the cheese.
  • Start with a salad.
  • Stop after one or two slices. Pack the rest up to take home!

Mexican

  • Enjoy the party but beware of added ingredients.
  • Skip the chips.
  • Start with a black bean soup or grilled shrimp or vegetables.
  • Skip or limit toppings like cheese or sour cream and opt for fresh salsa.
  • Share chicken or shrimp tacos or fajitas or pack up half to take home.

Chinese

  • Skip starters like egg rolls, egg drop soup, and fried wontons.
  • Stay away from fried options like Sweet and Sour pork and fried rice.
  • Opt for steamed chicken, bean curd, or vegetable dishes, plus steamed rice (bonus if they offer steamed brown rice!).

Healthy Places to Eat Out

While you may be limited on your options for eating out based on location or at the mercy of someone else's decision, try to look for options that offer:

  • Organic options
  • Fresh produce
  • Local meats
  • Natural ingredients
  • Customizable options

Choose to Eat-In Instead

Senior man and his wife enjoying in preparing food in their kitchen

What’s cheaper and just as quick as eating out. Dining in! If you have any reservations about what to choose when eating out, stick to what you know at home. And if you need a new idea here’s a basic plan for a healthy 30-minute dinner:

  • Choose many colorful vegetables.
  • Add a serving of lean meat, fish, poultry, or beans.
  • Add a whole grain such as brown rice, whole grain rice, or quinoa.
  • Add low-fat cheese.
  • Bake, broil, steam or stir fry your combination.
  • Top off your meal with fruit or a salad with low-fat milk. Enjoy! 

Restaurant Favorites at Home

Pizza: Make your own pizza!

  • Cook-It-Yourself vegetable pizza has about ½ cup of veggies per serving. 
  • Add all the veggies you want and make on a whole grain pizza shell or dough, English muffin, or tortilla.
  • Save approximately 170 Calories and 11.5g of fat per serving.

Tacos: Tacos are easy to make at home!

  • Try fillings such as chicken, seafood, beans, and veggies. 
  • Top with tomatoes, lettuce, onions, avocados, and other veggies. Serve on corn tacos or whole-wheat tortillas.
  • Save approximately 100 calories and 4g of fat per serving.

Stir Fry: Cooking a stir fry at home provided unlimited options!

  • Try it with chicken or your favorite veggies. 
  • Serve over whole-wheat pasta or steamed brown rice for a low-sodium meal.
  • Save approximately 250 calories and 3g of fat per serving.

Finding Balance in Eating Out

We know that sometimes you don’t want to plan a meal, cook it and clean up. I get it! If you enjoy eating out, don't think you have to avoid restaurants if you want to stay healthy. Restaurants know customer service is important so don’t hesitate to get them involved. With some planning, confidence, and clever substitutions, you can choose meals that are just as healthy as the ones you prepare at home. And if you have any hesitations, bring the restaurant home. It’s a win-win plan for staying on track! 

Lindsay Allen
Lindsay Allen

For over 20 years, Lindsay has worked as a passionate and dedicated professional seeking to advocate health & well-being in the community and beyond. She has worked with various hospitals & health departments to plan, implement & evaluate educational programs on healthy lifestyle topics including nutrition, physical activity, and cancer prevention. She completed her degree & internship in Dietetics from Virginia Tech and holds certifications in CDC Diabetes Prevention Program along with effective writing and cultural competency to assist clients in the best personal goal setting & habits. In her spare time, Lindsay loves working out, watching sports, and spending time with her husband, 3 children & dogs.



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