How to Eat Healthy at Restaurants

Created by: Kristen Carli, Dietetic Intern

Eat a Snack Before

Be sure to avoid arriving at the restaurant extremely hungry. When you are starving, it is very easy to overeat. Have a small snack before you leave for the restaurant to prevent extreme hunger.

Review the Menu Online

Most restaurants have websites that contain their menus. Check out the menu online before you arrive. You can plan out healthy options ahead of time. 

Choose a Balanced Plate

When ordering, choose a balanced plate. Aim to order all of the food groups: lean proteins, whole grains, low-fat dairy, vegetables and fruits. Order healthy side dishes to round out your meal such as a side salad or fruit. Aim for half of your plate to contain vegetables.

If ordering a sandwich, top with loads of vegetables such as lettuce, tomato, avocado, onions, peppers, cucumbers, etc. Choose low-fat condiments such as mustard, salsa, or relish. 

If ordering an entree salad, be sure to add protein such as chicken, shrimp, or beans. Choose a salad that contains whole grains like farro or quinoa, or ask for a baked potato on the side. Ask for dressing on the side so you can control the portion size. 

Eat Slowly

Try to remember to eat slowly. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to recognize that your stomach is full. Slow eaters eat less, but end up satisfied. Fast eaters tend to overeat.

Recognize the Terminology

The menu contains verbiage that is helpful to understand how nutritious the item will be. Avoid menu items that are described as “fried”, “breaded”, “rich”, or “creamy”. These words imply added calories and fat. Look for menu items that are described as “grilled”, “steamed”, or “broiled”. These words indicate that the foods are cooked without added fat. 

Modify if Necessary

Restaurants are able to modify your plate to fit your needs. All you need to do is ask. Restaurants work with a lot of raw ingredients like vegetables. Almost every restaurant will be able to prepare for you a side of steamed vegetables. You can ask to have entrees prepared with less oil or cheese, or ask to have an appetizer portion of a main meal. Many restaurants are happy to comply. With a little extra effort and preparation, you can enjoy nutritious restaurant meals. 

Material adapted from

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