Eating out can be a minefield for eating healthy foods. While I do think that it’s okay to indulge occasionally, restaurants are filled with temptations—and not just those chocolate lava cakes, gooey cheesecakes, oil-ladened egusi soup, afang soup, or the sea foods. Sometimes, even the “good” options aren’t as healthy as we want them to be.
Fortunately, there are some easy ways to navigate restaurant menus and make the best choices for your body and your health goals. Here are my top tips for eating healthy foods at a restaurant:
Choose a restaurant known for its healthy food
One of the easiest ways to eat healthy foods at a restaurant is to choose one known for its healthy food. You can tell that restaurants take their health seriously by looking at their menu. Many restaurants will list the number of calories per serving, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to be good choices. The size and type of each ingredient also matter in terms of how much or little fat, sugar, and salt are contained in each item on the menu.
Another way you can tell if a restaurant has a reputation for healthy eating is by reading reviews online or asking around about what people think about certain restaurants in your area. If you’re not sure where to start, check out their Google reviews!
Look up the menu ahead of time
If you’re going out to eat, find out what you want before you leave your house. Try looking it up on Google so that when you arrive at the restaurant and decide what to order, there’s no back-and-forth between staff members about what might be on special for the day. Also, look up any allergens in case any ingredients might cause problems for someone who has an allergy (like nuts).
Ask questions! Are there any grains, mushrooms, or beans in the dish? What else is in it? You might be surprised at how much information your server has about what goes into their dishes! They can be food items you are allergic to or items that are not very healthy.
Once you’re in the restaurant itself, ask questions! The waitstaff is there to help you—they want you to enjoy your meal! If they can’t answer your questions offhand (which is likely), they’ll be able to point you toward someone who can. You might also want to see if there’s a nutritionist on staff or an executive chef who has experience with healthy food.
Decide what to eat ahead of time
Another great way to avoid unhealthy food at a restaurant is by deciding what you want to eat before you go to the restaurant.
To eat healthy foods when eating out, be sure not to make decisions when hungry. When we are hungry it’s easy for our brains to think that something tastes good even if it isn’t healthy. Also, when we are hungry and having trouble making decisions like this, our bodies give us mixed signals about whether or not we should eat something or not. So try making a list of the healthy options you want to try and those that are off-limits (especially foods high in sugar and fat).
Finally: remember that some of your favorite foods may not be as healthy as they seem! French fries are often fried in oil that contains trans fats (which increase cholesterol levels), while hamburgers may contain nitrites (which can increase cancer risk.
Don’t be afraid to ask for special orders
If you’re trying to eat healthier, don’t be afraid to ask your server for special orders or substitutions.
- Ask for no butter or oil on your food. If it comes with a sauce or dressing, ask if it can be served on the side so you can control how much is put on.
- Ask for vegetables instead of fries on your sandwich (or even just as a side). When ordering chicken wings, make sure they are cooked without any added batter or breading.
- Ask for half of each item in your meal so you can divide up what makes sense and eat less overall calories or fat grams than full-sized portions provide.
Make simple swaps to get healthier food options
- Choose grilled chicken over fried chicken. Not only does it taste better, but it also saves you calories and fat that aren’t needed for your body.
- Ask for no butter or mayo when ordering a sandwich or burger. Most restaurants these days are happy to accommodate this request because they know the difference between good-for-you vegetable oil (like olive oil) and bad-for-you saturated fats like butter or lard!
- Ask for a side salad instead of fries with your meal (if they serve them). A salad is always better than fries because there are more veggies involved in making one…and more veggies mean more nutrients! Just make sure not to load up too much dressing on top though; opt for balsamic vinegar instead if possible so you don’t get extra calories from all those unhealthy oils in store-bought dressings such as ranch or thousand island dressing which contain trans fats found mostly in processed foods like cookies bars chips…etcetera
Skip meals with large portions
- Avoid large portions.
- Avoid super-sized meals.
- Avoid meals that are high in fat and sugar.
- Avoid meals that are high in calories.
- Avoid meals that are high in sodium.
Order protein at every meal
It’s easy for people who are trying to lose weight or eat healthier to fall into a rut of eating nothing but salads because they think that will keep them in line with their goals. But that can make your meals boring—and also leave you feeling hungry later on in the day! Instead, try getting some protein (like chicken) at every meal. This can be as simple as adding chicken breast or salmon as a side dish instead of potato chips
You can order healthy foods at restaurants
Ask for special orders or substitutions. If your restaurant has a specific item that you don’t want to eat, ask the server if they can prepare something else in its place. For example, if you don’t want fried chicken on your salad and would prefer grilled chicken instead, simply ask if they could make that substitution for you. Chances are they’ll be able to accommodate with no problem!
Make simple swaps to get healthier food options. Most restaurants will offer different kinds of bread and sauces for their dishes—these are great opportunities for swapping out unhealthy ingredients and getting healthier ones in their place! For example: If there are French fries on your sandwich, try asking them if they have fresh fruit instead (they might not have any but it’s worth asking). Or maybe there are baked chips instead of regular potato chips…that would be healthier too!
You’re at a restaurant, you don’t have to succumb to the temptation of not eating healthy foods. Armed with these tips for eating healthy at a restaurant, take your time and enjoy every bite because there is no reason why anyone should ever feel guilty about eating out. If it makes sense for your lifestyle, and if it fits within your budget, many options can help keep your food choices healthy while still enjoying the experience of dining at restaurants.
You know this is going to be hard, but you’ve got some tricks up your sleeve. Now that you’re armed with the information you need, when you go out to eat, be sure to follow these tips and tricks. If there are no healthy options on the menu, ask if something can be made healthier for you.