Dining Out the Smarter Way

  • How often do you eat out?
  • Do you find yourself eating and drinking more while in a social setting?
  • Do certain people or a particular restaurant trigger you to eat more?
  • Are you eating away from home due to other obligations (i.e., Work, travel, lunch meeting, meals on the run, obligations for your kids, etc.)
  • Do you find it difficult to prepare meals at home due to time restraints?
  • Do you lack the time to get to a grocery store?
  • Are you unsure of what to cook that is healthy?

Dining out is a part of our daily lifestyle.  Americans eat out nearly one out of every four meals and snacks.  This can create a challenge for those people who are managing their weight. 

Unlike eating at home, the ability to control the type of ingredients or methods used in preparing food is greatly limited. We can make requests, but there’s no guarantee that those requests will be honored. Portion control also becomes very difficult. The amount of food that’s typically served could feed three people, yet we have been conditioned to look that these super-sized plates as a normal portion and have no problem finishing what’s served to us.   Restaurant meals are loaded with more calories, sodium, saturated and trans fat than meals prepared and eaten at home.

Here are some great tips to help you dine out without ruining your waist:

Parties and Celebrations

Don’t go into the party hungry. Have a mini-meal before you get there – think produce + protein. This combination will take the edge off of your hunger so that you don’t have the urge to attack the food at the party.

  • Keep as far from the food tables as possible. Find someone to talk to so that you don’t get bored or distracted, ending up with a face full of food.
  • Watch you alcohol. Choose a wine spritzer or light beer.  Alternate alcoholic beverages with non-caloric ones.
  • Survey the buffet before you take anything. Then make a plan. Cover half of your plate with fruit and veggies/salad. The other half of the plate should have some lean protein (i.e., fish, chicken) and maybe one or two small spoonfuls of something that looks interesting or irresistible. No deprivation, but no bingeing either. One plate of food (not piled a mile high!) should be enough.
  • Do not allow the host/hostess or friends to pressure you into eating. It’s ok to say “No” to a food offering.


  • Determine where and with whom you will eat.
  • Decide ahead of time what you will order and how much of it you will eat before going to the restaurant. Order only what you will eat.
  • Order first, so that you don’t get swayed by your companions’ food choices. Plus, you might just a set a good example and influence others to order better.
  • Avoid “all-you-can-eat” restaurants. It’s too easy to give in to “getting your money’s worth”.
  • Consult on-line menus and nutritional information ahead of time to help you plan out your meal.
  • Choose restaurants where you can eat appropriately.
  • Eat slowly and enjoy every bite of your meal.
  • Drink water
  • Refuse the bread/chip basket that is offered when you sit down at the table. You can always ask for a plate of veggies and salsa instead (yes, they will do it for you, if you ask).
  • Ask questions about preparation method and menu substitutions (i.e., dressing on the side, double vegetables instead of pasta)
  • Order better grains – baked sweet potato, corn on the cob, plain baked potato, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, tabouli, couscous – instead of white rice, fried rice, creamy pasta, cheesy pasta, french fries, mashed potatoes, sweet potato fried, onion rings, garlic bread, cheese bread.
  • Stop eating when you begin to feel full (on a scale of 1 to 10, about a 5 or 6)
  • Choose foods in their simplest forms. The closer food looks like it’s true self, the less processed and better for you it is.

 Fast Food

If you’re in a pinch and fast-food is your only option, you’re in luck. Almost all of the traditional fast-food chains offer a few healthier choices.

  • Look for a grilled chicken sandwich (some even have a whole-grain bun), just hold the cheese and mayo.
  • Try a salad with grilled chicken (instead of breaded/fried) and ask for a package of “light” salad dressing and use it sparingly.
  • Instead of french fries, ask for a package of apples or other fruit salad.
  • A plain baked potato topped with a cup of chili is a good choice.
  • At a sandwich shop you can get turkey on whole wheat, mustard, lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, pickles, peppers, olives – hold the mayo, cheese, and oil.
  • Save on the liquid calories by getting a bottle of water or unsweetened iced tea. You can make your own iced coffee drink by ordering a cup of coffee and a large cup of ice – pour coffee over ice, ass a little nonfat milk, and voila!
  • Starbucks has a few good options – egg white breakfast wrap, oatmeal with fruit and nuts, yogurt & fruit salad.

It’s not hard to eat well if you have a game plan going into it. Do your homework, look at on-line menus and nutritional information, and never be afraid to “Have it your way.”


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