Dining Out – How to Make Healthier Menu Choices

health choice at restaurantIn today’s society we are eating at restaurants more than ever before where almost half (47.9%) of our food dollars are spent away from the home.  This is problematic for a couple of reasons.  First, research shows that just one meal away from the house can add an additional 134 calories to one’s daily caloric intake.  Compound that by the multiple of times we visit restaurants per week and the pounds can start adding up quickly.  Second, research has also found that foods consumed away from home tend to be lower in nutritional quality due to its higher fat, sugar, alcohol, and salt content while having a significant reduction in the amount of fruits, whole grains, and vegetables that are necessary for a healthy diet.

However, when armed with the right information, eating out can in fact be done in a manner that is both enjoyable to your palate and good to your waistline.  One of the best ways to accomplish this is to start using the power of information available on the internet.  Healthy Dining Finder located at http://www.healthydiningfinder.com is an excellent source by providing low calorie and healthy menu choices from thousands of participating restaurants ranging from fast food to fine dining.  Each suggested menu item is approved by a registered dietitian and contains corresponding nutrition information.  All you have to do is enter in your zipcode and they will provide a list of participating restaurants in your area.  Other sites that may helpful are Cooking Light’s Menu Navigator located at http://www.cookinglight.com/eating-smart/smart-choices/restaurant-navigator-00400000062083/ as well as food databases such as CalorieKing at http://www.calorieking.com.

Can’t find the information you are looking for on the internet?  No worries, here are some guidelines that can help you navigate your menu choices:

  • Choose items that are grilled, broiled, steamed, poached, baked, roasted, or braised.
  • Try to avoid meals that are fried, battered, and scalloped or food containing high calorie contents such as butter, creams, gravy, and regular cheese.
  • Look for dishes flavored with herbs and spices instead of the high calorie items listed above.
  • Think portion control by choosing a small” or “medium” version of main and side dishes.
  • Watch out for extra calories coming from beverages.  Obviously look out for beverages containing lots of added sugar.  If you are going to have alcohol with your meal, take a moment to read my blog on “How to Curb Alcohol Calories”.
  • Ask for salad dressing to be served on the side and then use intelligently.
  • Select main dishes that include lots of vegetables.

In sum, eating out doesn’t have to be a discouraging or stingy experience.  With just a few modifications, one can rein in the calories while enjoying meals that are both flavorful and nutritious.  Happy eating!


Megan Senger, “Navigating Restaurant Menus”, IDEA Fitness Journal (September 2012)

Jessica E. Todd, Lisa Mancino, and Biing-Hwan Lin“The Impact of Food Away From Home on Adult Diet Quality”, USDA Economic Research Service (February 2010)


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