How to Choose the Healthiest Option on the Menu at Any Restaurant

We’re now spending more money at restaurants than we are on groceries, according to a report from Quartz. Not only does that pattern have an impact on our economy — it’s also majorly effecting our waistlines. We all know that home-cooked meals tend to be much healthier. But the reality is, if we’re constantly eating out, we need to learn how to choose the healthiest options on the menu.

The thing is, that’s not as easy as it sounds, since many menus are packed with sneaky calorie traps. That’s why we asked Kacie Barnes, Master of Clinical Nutrition, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, to share her smart strategies for eating out. These 12 tips will help you navigate any menu:

  • Calories aren’t bad, but I like to know what I’m splurging on, and make it intentional. So don’t be afraid to ask questions about how menu items are prepared. The goal of a chef is always to make food taste good, not to make it healthy.
  • Ask for high calorie garnishes to be left off if you can do without them (like a dollop of sour cream or a pile of crispy fried onion rings).
  • Broiled, steamed, roasted, boiled, and grilled items usually have less added fat and calories than items that are fried, sautéed, or breaded.
  • Find the veggies. Often an entree will have a large protein portion, and then just a garnish of vegetables. To make a healthy, well-balanced meal, you may need to look to the sides or salad menu to add a veggie to your meal.
  • Unless you plan on fully indulging, steer clear of creamed soups or chowders. They are usually loaded with cream (delicious, but a lot of calories in a little bowl).
  • Just because it’s sweet potato doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Sweet potato fries often sound healthier, but they’re just as indulgent as traditional French fries.
  • Ask for your veggies to be served dry, if you’re looking for a way to cut down on calories. Even simple steamed veggies are often finished in oil, butter, or even bacon grease.
  • Portions are always too big. Remember to eat mindfully and put your fork down between bites. Check in with yourself for fullness, so you are able to stop when you’re full, not just when your plate is empty.
  • Only choose one “extra” to avoid going overboard with calories. If you want something in addition to your entree, choose either a drink, appetizer, or dessert. Think about which one will be the most satisfying to you.
  • Look at menus online before your meal when dining at a chain. You can see nutrition info on there to help guide you toward lower calorie options.
  • Ask for sauces to be served on the side. You will add less than they will!
  • Don’t skip meals earlier in the day to save up your calories. If you’re starving when you get to the restaurant, you’re more likely to attack the bread basket, order more food than you need, and not pay attention to your fullness cues.

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