How to Eat Healthy at Restaurants

I love eating out. I love looking up restaurants to go to, I love trying new dishes and I love pizza.

While it’s true that eating most meals at home is best for your health, especially if you have weight loss goals — that doesn’t mean you can never go out on date night or even a weekly dinner with the girls.

My motto is that you shouldn’t have to sacrifice everything you love for a healthy lifestyle. But you do sometimes have to pick and choose.

Since I don’t love applying one rule for everyone, I’m breaking this article down according to a few categories you could fall into: The average person, The average person who’s a little extra health-conscious and The average person with weight loss goals.

The Average Person

If you are just an average person, living your life, the only real restaurant strategy you need is portion control. Unless you’re at a fancy French restaurant, it’s likely that ordering one meal for yourself is going to be a larger serving that you need.

You can solve this portion issue by:

  • Sharing dishes with the table. For example, my husband and I often order an appetizer and one entree versus two entrees. If you have 4 people, order 2-3 entrees and 1-2 appetizers. Remember that our eyes are usually bigger than our stomachs and you can always order more food or take it home for leftovers.
  • Ordering an entree of whatever you like and stopping when you are 90% full. Take the rest home and eat it later if you’re still hungry, or the next day.
  • Assess how often you eat out — if you eat out all the time due to work/travel then you might want to follow the steps in the section below. If you don’t eat out very often then it could be totally worth it to “splurge” a little, but listen to your body when it says it’s full.

The Average “Extra” Health-Conscious Person

If you try to pay a little more attention to your diet/health or are someone who eats out a lot then you might want to follow the guidelines below:

  • Order a side salad. Often vegetables are lacking or in very small portions at restaurants. Starting with a salad will get you some nutrients and increase fullness a little before the entree.
  • Swap out whatever side your entree comes with for a veggie. Again, more nutrients and it’s likely swapped out something fried or heavily buttered.
  • Ditch the bread on a sandwich or burger, or only eat half of it.
  • Hold condiments or toppings that you won’t miss. This could be mayo, cheese, candied nuts, etc. If you’re not going to miss it, this is a great place to save up calories for dessert 🙂
  • Split things! See first section.
  • Look for the words grilled, blackened, baked or roasted.
  • Assess how often you eat out — if eating out isn’t a regular occurrence (saying it again!) then feel free to go for it! Try not to eat way past fullness, but enjoy the meal and carry on with your life.

The Average Person on a “Diet”/ With Weight Loss Goals

You can definitely still eat out if you’re “on a diet” or trying to lose weight. The best option for you will depend on a few things that I’ll discuss below:

  • Assess how your adherence has been the past week or two weeks. If you’ve been quite “on track” then one meal out might be a nice mental break and won’t derail your progress. If you’ve been having trouble adhering to your plan, then you might not want to “splurge”.
  • Assess where your weight loss goals fall on your priority list. Given that answer, choose your meal accordingly.
  • Decide how a meal out will affect your mindset. Will it boost your adherence to your plan? Or will it make you feel guilty and like now you are so “off track” you might as well throw everything out the window for the next week? Be aware of what’s going on in your head and decide accordingly.
  • Regardless of those 3 factors above, paying attention to your fullness level as you eat is KEY. Eat slowly and stop eating when you are 90% full. Split things and take food home. Challenge yourself to make the meal “one notch healthier” by holding the cheese or bun, adding a vegetable, etc.

Before You Go

One of my favorite things to do for clients is look up the menu for them ahead of time and offer suggestions. Do this for yourself too! If you plan ahead you can strategize so that you don’t just have to order a salad with grilled chicken. For example:

  • Craving fries, but also want to reach your goals? Half have a sandwich with a side salad and a side of fries.
  • Craving a burger with the bun? Hold the mayo and/or cheese and get a side salad.
  • Craving pizza? Have some roasted veggies at home beforehand and pay attention to fullness.
  • Craving pasta? Start with a salad or get a grilled vegetable on the side and take half of the pasta home.

There are SO many ways to portion control and make meal swaps that allow you to still feel good and enjoy what you love at a restaurant.

Also remember, if you don’t eat out that frequently — one meal doesn’t make you healthy and one meal doesn’t ruin everything 🙂

2 thoughts on “How to Eat Healthy at Restaurants

  1. That’s a good idea to make sure that you try and determine when you are full and stop eating. I enjoy going to try new restaurants, but I always feel like I eat way too much when I do. I’ll have to try and pay attention to when I get full, so I know when to take the rest of the food home.

    1. Exactly! A hard skill to develop, especially at some excellent restaurants 🙂 But “future me” always enjoys having leftovers!

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