List: Fifteen tips to plan better meals in restaurants


These tips can help you escape the rut making poor choices you have made while eating out.


Sure, cooking your own food at home is one of the best ways to ensure you are sticking with healthy eating habits. You are committed to eating healthy and you do not need to limit yourself to eating at home alone. Committing yourself to a healthier lifestyle does not have to be hard and you do not have to hold your life hostage to avoid overeating. Making healthy choices at restaurants is totally doable.

It is nearly impossible to avoid eating out in restaurants today. Our lives are so busy and we travel so much that restaurants are nearly essential to eating while traveling. Fastfood restaurants are a mainstay of American culture and they are not going away anything soon.

No matter whether you eat out as a part of your daily work schedule or you are looking for a fast and convenient meal, restaurants are convenient and packing meals is not always possible. Americans spend billions of dollars every year at these dining establishments. The flashing lights may be easy to avoid if you are on your own, but you may find it impossible to avoid if you are in a group or with your family.

Regardless of what got you to make the decision to eat out, the following list is my list of tips on how to eat healthier in chain restaurants:

  1. Choose the establishment wisely: No all restaurants are the same. When it comes to selecting a restaurant, You can find one in your area that offers healthier options. Google and Yelp can be your friend. Although nearly all have healthier choices, each has varying degrees of healthy choices. For instance, Applebee’s and Ruby Tuesday’s often have multiple healthier choices, but Chilli’s has very few.
  2. Research the choice online before you start: Once you pick a chain, scout the menu online. If their menu is no published online, it is probably best to avoid them. Fooducate and Lose-it both have online nutritional references for thousands of restaurants and their menu choices. Preparing in advance by deciding what you plan to order can help you prevent the overpowering aroma from pushing you to poor choices.
  3. Avoid the specials: You can ask about the specials, but rarely are they healthy. Cheaper is rarely better. Specials are usually the item the dining establishment is trying to clear because they have extra made. If you ask your waiter about specials, make sure you look at the calorie count of the food before ordering. Occasionally, specials focus on more seasonal ingredients and can be the healthier choice, but you have to check.
  4. Say no appetizers: Appetizers are essentially fat-filled and calorie-laden foods that are often ultrapasteurized. The best way to avoid these traps if just to skip over that portion of the menu. If it is ordered as a table treat, just avoid them as they pass down the line. By definition, they are essentially empty calories.
  5. Salads can be a trap: I know that medical experts recommend that you eat more vegetables, but they do not mean soaked in salad dressing and loaded with low-quality meat and cheese. Salads can be healthy, but some of the most unhealthy dishes in a chain restaurant are the salads. I have seen the nutrition of some of these topping 1000-1500 per serving and your entire allotment of fat and salt. Some of this is due to the dressing, but it can also be toppings. If you want a salad, order the small half portion with the dressing on the side.
  6. Go baked, broiled, or grilled: No, I am not talking about of baked bread or pizza. I am talking lean meat, fish, or poultry. Look past the salad section to the entree menu. You have to choose wisely, on the menu is a great place to start, but proteins will keep you full longer.
  7. Skip the starches: Sides like fries and mashed potatoes are best left in the kitchen. They do nto promote satiety. Instead, ask for extra vegetables instead or a fruit cup.
  8. Make a vegetarian choice: I am not a vegetarian or vegan, but the fact is that we do not get enough vegetables. Vegetable dishes tend to have more vegetables with less processed ingredients. They will keep you full longer and often have a better nutritional profile.
  9. Drink water: Go easy on the drinks. Drinks are a huge source of empty calories. Stick to lemon water if you need a little flavor and the best part is water is usually free. If you must have a drink, go with unsweetened herbal tea, tea, or sparkling water.
  10. Say no to alcohol: Alcohol is not only an empty source of calories, but it also lower inhibition and leads to poor dietary choices. If alcohol is a must, choose lighter drinks like bourbon on the rocks, vodka soda, a light beer, or red wine. Sugary drinks and craft bears can the enemy of your waistline.
  11. Choose soup: Soup can be a smart choice. They might not be the lowest in salt or calories, but a healthier soup can be better than the main dish. If they contain beans, they can be exceptionally filling. The key is choosing a soup that is lower in carbohydrates and fat. Creamy soups are higher in fat and calories.
  12. Bring on the doggie bag: Portion sizes are huge today. leaving it on the table is nto an option for many of us that were stacked with guilty by our grandmothers with the statement “clean your plate”. Halfing your portion before eating and stashing the other half in a doggie bag can assist your healthy endeavor. This method will avoid the drive to clean the plate.
  13. Don’t starve yourself: If you deny yourself until you are famished and then sit down, you will make poorer choices. Then you will order the unhealthy choice and scarf it down. Ravenous need to eat is the enemy of a slim waistline.
  14. Eat before you go out: Plan ahead and eat before you travel or go out with friends. If you’re invited out, you can always eat your home-brought food and then tag along to the restaurant for a coffee or tea. I often keep a few serving in my freezer for a rainy day.
  15. Skip dessert: So far, so good, but don’t mess up now. A healthy meal is something to build on, but you can blow it by eating the wrong dessert. You can never go wrong with fruit as a dessert. The lighter the choice you make, the better.

The bottom line: You cannot control everything, but you can control enough of the environment to help you make better choices. Locations matter, but near as much as the choices you make once you get to the restaurant. It is important to remember that if you eat healthy most of the time, you do nto need to worry about the rest of the time. Enjoy your meal!

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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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