How can I eat out at a restaurant and not ruin my diet? This is a very common concern for many of us, as we don’t have control over what goes into our food when eating out…. or do we?

We do have a say when it comes to our food prep no matter where you eat. There are always ways to make your dinner healthier with a few different options.

However, sometimes you just need to splurge and enjoy the finer things in life like pasta and wine. If eating out at restaurants is a rare occurrence, then enjoy what you want! But, if you eat out frequently, including take-out delivery options, then being health-conscious about meal choices is a good idea!

Especially since restaurants typically choose unhealthy ways to prep food including deep frying in fatty oils that can actually escalate the risk for cardiovascular disease, as they often increase inflammation and oxidative stress from high heat.

Restaurants use lots of unhealthy ingredients because sugar, salt, and fat make food taste better.

Not to fret, I’ve shared some of my best tips to keep in mind when dining out and keep you on track with your health goals.

  1. Make Reservations for an Earlier Dinner- We usually eat a heavier meal when dining out so it’s best to choose an earlier dinner time, like 6:30 pm instead of 8:30 pm. This gives you time to digest a heavier meal before going to bed.
  2. Skip the Bread- Pass on the bread and chip appetizers. These extra carbs fill you up before you even get your meal. For burgers or other sandwiches, ask for a lettuce wrap option or whole grain bread.
  3. Skip the Dip- Most appetizers are fried and cheesy. These are no bueno for your health goals. Although they are delicious, choose a better option like hummus and veggies or shrimp cocktail.
  4. Order a Side Salad- The house salad with fiber-filled greens will help curb your appetite by filling you up faster so you can take your leftovers home and split them between two servings. Fiber helps balance blood sugars and insulin levels better before a heavy carb meal like pasta. Oil and vinegar will be your best dressing choice.
  5. Not All Salads are Healthy- Unfortunately, the Crispy Chicken BBQ Ranch Santa Fe Salad with tortilla strips and all the fixings isn’t a healthy salad choice. Instead, choose a salad filled with raw veggies, healthy greens, and grilled chicken. Creamy dressings are usually higher in fat and calories turning a healthy meal into a bad one real fast. Instead, choose clearer salad dressings like lemon and ginger with olive oil or a cilantro-lime vinaigrette.
  6. Sauces & Seasoning on the Side. This includes any dressings or marinades. Typically these sauces are higher in sugar, fat, and salt. Having them on the side allows you to use half the amount. You can always ask for light or no seasoning, especially if you’re trying to be salt conscious. High sodium can make you retain water and bloat more, not to mention the added strain on the heart and kidneys to handle the extra fluid volume and higher blood pressure.
  7. Swap Side for Extra Veggies- Opt for veggies or a side salad instead of the fries or potatoes. Ask for them to be steamed without butter or if they have a baked sweet potato as this will have more fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients.
  8. Grilled over Fried- For food prep, choose grilled over fried foods. Frying foods like french fries or fried chicken changes the metabolic profile of food. Oils used at high heat for frying usually contain trans fats which are notorious for causing heart disease. Consuming a diet high in fried foods increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, and obesity.
  9. Healthy Pasta- Choose tomato-based over creamy alfredo sauce. Ask for whole-grain pasta.
  10. Your Drink Choice Matters- Drink water throughout the meal. Unsweet teas with lemon are also an option. For alcohol, choose a low sugar option or a glass of red wine (antioxidant benefits). Sweet sugary alcoholic beverages and even beer can include just as much sugar and calories as your meal so stick to your go-to choices for alcohol that you know are better options like a spirit and club soda with lime.
  11. Caution with “Gluten-Free”- This doesn’t mean that is healthy or a better option for you unless you’re gluten sensitive. Gluten-free foods tend to be higher in sugar, fat, and overall calories while being low in actual nutritional value. 
  12. Eat Slower and Take Leftovers Home- Portions at restaurants are usually much bigger than our stomachs can/should handle. Drink water often, chew thoroughly and know when to stop. Your satiety sensors are a little delayed so eating food too fast often leads to ingestion of way too many calories.
  13. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for it- You can ask your waiter/waitress for tips, substitutions, healthy dressing options, and any other special request. Asking for substitutions means you won’t be tempted to only have a few fries if they don’t make it to your plate.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose or treat any health conditions without consulting your healthcare provider. Information used is based on experience and opinion, not 100% evidence. Always consult with a health care practitioner before relying on any information in this article or on this website.