Order up: Eating out the Healthy Way

From MayoClinic.com

With lunches out, after-work parties and family celebrations, you probably eat out more than ever before. But what about your desire to eat healthy? Do you need to sacrifice your healthy meal plan because you're away from home? Not at all. Simply make wise meal choices and practice moderation in portion control and menu selections.

Determining the best menu options

Ordering food at a restaurant may seem like an easy task: Read through the menu and decide what to order. But how do you know which items are your best choices and which may be loaded with fat and calories?

First, read item descriptions. If none is available, ask your server what's in the meal and how it's prepared. Choose dishes based on fruits, vegetables and whole grains rather than those based on meat. Plant-based foods are naturally low in fat and calories and are good sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Fish and seafood also are good meal options.

Also, certain cooking terms can give you a basic idea of a food's nutritional makeup. Look for descriptions that indicate low-fat preparation or ingredients.



Broiled, without added butter





Sauteed or stir-fried in a small amount of oil, broth or water


A la king

Alfredo, unless low fat

Au gratin









Sauteed or stir-fried in heavy oil

Navigating through each course

You can find healthy options within each course of the meal. Here's help in wading through your choices:

  • Appetizers. Choose appetizers with vegetables, fruits or fish. Tomato juice, fresh fruit compote and shrimp cocktail served with lemon make healthy hors d'oeuvre options. Avoid fried or breaded appetizers.
  • Soup. Choose broth-based or tomato-based soups, such as minestrone, vegetable or gazpacho. Creamed soups, chowders, pureed soups and sometimes fruit soups can contain heavy cream or egg yolks. Ask for the soup's ingredients to be certain.
  • Salad. Order lettuce or spinach salad with dressing on the side, preferably a low-fat or fat-free version. Caesar, Greek and taco salads tend to be higher in fat and calories. Similarly, chef salads can be high in fat, cholesterol and calories because of the added dressing, cheese, eggs and meat.
  • Bread. Choose whole-grain breads, rolls, breadsticks, crackers or bagels. Muffins, garlic toast and croissants have more calories and fat. If you have a bread basket at your table, take one piece and ask your server to remove the basket. Use only small amounts of added fat — such as margarine, butter or olive oil — or use none at all.
  • Side dish. Choose a baked potato, boiled new potatoes, steamed vegetables or rice instead of french fries, potato chips, onion rings or mayonnaise-based salads. Ask that the potatoes, vegetables or rice come without butter or cream sauces.
  • Entree. Look for descriptions that indicate lower-fat preparations, such as London broil, grilled chicken breast, lemon-baked fish or broiled shish kebabs. Avoid items with high-fat descriptors, such as prime rib of beef, veal parmigiana, stuffed shrimp, fried chicken, fettuccine Alfredo, filet mignon with bearnaise sauce, shrimp tempura or fried rice. Choose pasta primavera or linguine with red tomato or clam sauce. Skip pasta with meat or cheese stuffing or sauces that contain bacon, butter, cream or eggs.
  • Dessert. Finish the main meal before ordering dessert. By the time you're done, you may not even want dessert. If you do order dessert, split it with your companions or take half of it home. Tasty and healthy dessert options include fresh fruit, gelatin, angel food cake, sorbet or sherbet.

Cut back on the extras

Many people instinctively add salt, butter, sauces and dressing to their food — sometimes even before tasting. Hold back. Well-prepared food needs minimal enhancement.

If your meal comes with a sauce or dressing, ask for it on the side and use the fork-dip-food technique. Dab your fork in the sauce and then pick up your food. This allows you to enjoy the sauce but limits the amount. In addition, substitute healthier condiments. For example, use mustard rather than mayonnaise, or pepper or lemon juice instead of salt.

Also, watch what and how much you drink. Many beverages contain a large number of calories. For example, a large soda (32 ounces) has about 400 calories. Instead, order diet soda, water, unsweetened iced tea, sparkling water or mineral water with a twist of lemon. For a hot drink, try black, decaffeinated coffee or black or green tea, minus the sugar and other extras.

Remember, too, that alcohol also contains many calories, and it may further stimulate your appetite and decrease your inhibitions about overeating. And "light" drinks may not be as light as you think. For example, a 12-ounce regular beer has about 145 calories and the same-sized light beer has about 100 calories. Enjoy these drinks in moderation.

Watch your portion sizes

Many, if not most, restaurants serve oversized portions, which equates to extra food and an increased amount of calories, fat, cholesterol and sodium. Avoid these excessively large portions. This not only will cut down on your fat and calories, but also allows you to eat a wider variety of foods during a meal. Eating a variety of foods ensures that you get all of the energy, protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber you need.

Serving sizes: Keeping your food portions in check

Though it may cost more, ordering a la carte gives you a variety of foods and smaller quantities. Try making a meal out of broth-based rather than cream-based soup along with some appetizers. As above, select broiled, baked or steamed appetizers rather than their deep-fried counterparts. Try these other suggestions for keeping your portion sizes down:

  • Ask if you can have a lunch portion, even if you're eating dinner. Or simply request a smaller portion.
  • When it's difficult to gauge the portion size of a particular food item on the menu — such as toppings for a baked potato — ask for it on the side. You then control how much sour cream to spoon onto your potato.
  • Split a meal with a companion, particularly when you know the restaurant serves larger portions.
  • Request a to-go container when the meal arrives. Immediately place half of the food into the container for the next day's meal.
  • Eat only until your hunger is satisfied. If you're tempted to clean your plate, ask your server to remove the dishes.

Buffets may prove especially challenging when trying to eat smaller portion sizes. Large amounts of food and the freedom to go back for a second or third helping may lead to excess. It's also tempting to regard buffet dining as a personal challenge — to get your money's worth by eating a lot. To limit the amount of food you eat, survey the entire buffet line, then decide what you want and take only that. Make salad minus the high-fat dressings and toppings, such as cheese and croutons, your first course. Then, go back for an entree. Fill up on plenty of vegetables that don't have added butter, margarine or sauces.

Select your fast-food meals carefully

Many meal options at fast-food restaurants contain large amounts of fat and calories. For example, a double cheeseburger, large french fries and medium soda has about 1,510 total calories and 66 grams of fat. Some fast-food franchises do offer several lighter-fare items, such as salads and grilled chicken. But watch for dressings, sauces and other condiments that can boost your meal's fat and calorie content. Bottom line: Be choosy. These guidelines can help:

  • Consider for breakfast fresh fruit, unsweetened fruit juice, cereal with skim or 1 percent milk, fat-free muffins, or pancakes without butter and a small amount of syrup.
  • Order smaller portions. For example, a single small hamburger instead of a double, or a small fries instead of a large. Also limit high-fat, high-calorie burger toppings and condiments, such as bacon, cheese, mayonnaise, sauces and dressings.
  • Choose unbreaded poultry items, such as broiled or grilled chicken or sliced turkey sandwiches. Or order a veggie sandwich minus high-fat condiments.
  • Request sandwiches on whole-wheat bread or pita bread.
  • Remove breading and use a napkin to absorb extra oil if you order a fried item.
  • Load your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables if the restaurant has a salad bar. Look for low-fat or fat-free dressings. Limit cheese, eggs and croutons.
  • Order a baked potato topped with vegetables, or order a whole-grain bagel. Ask for the butter, margarine or dressings on the side.
  • Cut back on ketchup, mustard, sauces and pickles if you need to control sodium. Also, skip salted french fries, chips, ham, sausage, bacon and cheese.
  • Avoid milk shakes and dessert items such as pies and sundaes with syrup. Try fresh fruit or a flavored coffee with skim milk.

Eat healthy, no matter where you are

You can healthy away from home. In fact, dining out offers a great opportunity to enjoy a variety of healthy foods, without having to prepare them or do the clean-up work yourself. Don't let large portions, unfamiliar menus and tempting desserts discourage you from your goal to eat healthy. Whether checking out a new restaurant or celebrating a special occasion at a favorite bistro, you can have your healthy diet and eat it, too.

A great way to make sure you're eating the right foods AND the right proportions is to get the help of a gourmet chef who understands fitness and eating for weight loss. Sounds expensive, sounds like something only available to the rich and famous in Hollywood, right? Not any longer. There is now a gourmet food delivery service that charges $7-10 per meal - these are freshly prepared healthy whole food meals created to help people lose weight and save time. You can learn more by clicking here.

© 1999 - 2007 HealthStyle Fitness, Inc,  www.CincinnatiPersonalTraining.com   & Brian Calkins - Cincinnati, Ohio

Home ::   Contact   ::   About Us  ::  Programs  ::  Private Studio  ::  Announcements  ::  Success Stories  ::  Store  ::  Resources  ::  Newsletter