Eating Out the Healthy Way

Eating out is a reality in today’s busy world when convenience is key, however making healthy choices when eating out is not always easy. Restaurant meals are notoriously low in vegetables and fruit, high in sodium, fat, sugar and calories, and can come in portion sizes large enough to feed a whole family! Although it may not be easy, here are some basic principles to follow to make smart healthy choices the next time you eat out:

1. Choose foods made with healthier cooking methods

Look for words like baked, steamed, poached, grilled roasted, broiled or stir-fried. Try to avoid foods that are deep-fried, pan-fried or battered, these will be much higher in fat.

2. Add extra vegetables

Restaurant meals are often very low in vegetables, whenever possible try to add a side salad, a side of steamed vegetables or add extra vegetables to your sandwiches, pizza or stir-fries. As much as possible try to fill half your plate with vegetables

3. Keep your portions in check

Portion size in restaurant meals is typically very large (especially if you are dining in the United States!). Be aware of this and ask for a half-portion if possible, share a meal with a friend or ask for half of your meal to be packaged up to take home as leftovers. Try to think about filling your plate using the “Healthy Plate Method” even when you are out to eat. Fill half your plate with vegetables (salad, steamed vegetables etc.), one quarter of your plate with your starch and the last quarter of your plate with your meat, fish or other protein.

4. Simply ask for foods to be prepared YOUR way

  • Ask for sauces and salad dressings on the side. Restaurants will typically over dress salads with high fat dressings and put way too much sauce or gravy on your meals. Asking for these on the side allows you to control how much goes on your meal.
  • Ask for no salt or monosodium glutamate (MSG) and minimal oils and fats to be added when cooking.
  • Ask about nutrition, ingredients and cooking methods or check out the restaurants website for nutrition information ahead of time, many restaurants have their nutrition information posted on their website. That way you are able to make the most informed decision when deciding what foods to choose.

5. Try not to drink your calories

Calories from alcohol, pop and other sugary beverages can add up very quickly. Try to mainly choose water or a calorie-free beverage when eating out. If you are drinking alcohol choose a light beer or wine spritzer and enjoy sweet specialty drinks less often.

6. Focus on nutrition instead of value

Super-sized meal options may seem like a great deal but they are full of “extras” that we do not need like extra fat, sodium, sugar and empty calories. Focus more on choosing foods that are lower in fat, sodium, and sugar and include many vegetables, fruits, lean protein and whole grains. While these meals may be more expensive and do not seem like as great of a “deal”, they will be a much better deal for your heart and health.

7. More tips based on type of restaurant:

  • Fast food:
    • Choose more often: grilled chicken burger, thin crust vegetarian pizza, a child size/single hamburger, side salad with low-fat dressing, plain baked potato
    • Choose less often: multiple patty hamburgers, deep fried chicken fingers or burgers, fries, potato salad, milk shakes
  • Coffee Shop/Breakfast Place:
    • Choose more often: regular sized coffee, tea or espresso beverages made with skim milk and no added sugars, skip the whipped cream, low-fat muffins, whole grain toast, poached eggs, fruit cup.
    • Choose less often: Large high fat/high sugar “fancy” coffee drinks with whip cream, regular muffins, pastries, donuts, bagels loaded with cream cheese, waffles, bacon, sausage, hash browns.
  • Sandwich shops:
    • Choose more often: whole-grain breads, lots of vegetables, condiments such as mustard, ketchup, relish, salsa, hummus, lean meats like chicken or turkey, avocado, low fat cheese (in small amounts).
    • Choose less often: croissants, cheese bread/buns, white bread/buns, salami, bologna, pepperoni, roast beef, meatballs, regular fat cheese, mayo, butter/margarine, tuna/egg salad sandwich loaded with mayo, creamy sauces.
  • Pizza place:
    • Choose more often: thin crust, whole grain, crust, lots of vegetables, minimal cheese.
    • Choose less often: deep dish pizza loaded with meat and cheese.
  • Chinese Food:
    • Choose more often: steamed vegetables, steamed fish, stir fried dishes with lots of vegetables, lean stir fired meats, ask for sauces on the side.
    • Choose less often: battered deep-fried items like breaded lemon chicken, deep-fried shrimp, MSG, sauces with lots of sugar and salt.
  • Italian Food:
    • Choose more often: half-portions of whole grain pasta with tomato based sauces, grilled, poached or baked fish, grilled chicken, salad.
    • Choose less often: large portions of white pasta with creamy alfredo type sauces, bread sticks with lots of garlic butter.
  • Indian Food:
    • Choose more often: tandoori meats, lentil and chickpea based dishes, steamed rice, vegetable/vegetarian dishes, whole grain naan or chapatti.
    • Choose less often: foods cooked in butter or ghee, coconut milk based sauces, deep fried foods such as samosas, pakora, fried roti etc., high sugar/salt chutneys.
  • Middle Eastern:
    • Choose more often: tabbouleh, tzatziki, hummus, bean/lentil dishes, whole grain pita bread, grilled lean meats, salads with low fat oil/vinegar dressings, baked falafel.
    • Choose less often: dishes made with phyllo pastry (spanakopita), baklava, white pita, deep fried vegetables, shawarma (and other fatty meats), deep fried falafel, high-fat dressings.
Read more about Nutrition.

Want to learn more about protecting your own health or the health of your loved ones? Contact us.