Restaurant Choices

What to Eat Where: Healthy Options When Eating Out

When you’re on a diet, you may worry that eating out will ruin all of the progress you’ve made. It can be difficult to look through a menu and determine the healthiest choices. When you are grocery shopping, you can read the labels, but restaurants often don’t have this information available to you. By learning the best dishes to order at different restaurants, you can be prepared – and able to enjoy your night out.

General Tips for Eating Out

In addition to knowing what to order, you need to have a plan. Even if you order the healthiest meal on the menu, you could throw your diet out the window by eating too much. Take a look at the following tips for dining out on a diet:

  • Skip the bread or tortilla chips: These foods are loaded with carbs and calories, and they can ruin your diet before you even order your meal. 
  • Choose greens for a side: Fries, potatoes, and pasta are also full of carbs and will hurt your diet.  Focus on enjoying your main course and have a side salad or some veggies in place of fries.
  • Portion control: If the restaurant has large helpings of food, you can ask for a half portion – or, if you’re not flying solo, go for splitting an appetizer and an entree with your dining partner.

Best Choices at an Italian Restaurant

It can be nerve-wracking to go to an Italian restaurant when you are on a diet.  Italian restaurants often offer heavily fried food covered in cheese, and many of them serve large portions.  However, it is possible to avoid these (and that calorie-packed lasagna). 

Italian food is Mediterranean, and they usually have dishes that include vegetables, olives, seafood, and grains.  You can focus on grilled seafood and sauces that are tomato-based, as well as fresh appetizers and salads. Stay away from the creamy sauces, heavy lasagna, and fried foods.  If you get stuck, here’s a few menu choices for Italian restaurants:

  • Caprese salad: This simple option has mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil.
  • Chicken cacciatore: Braised chicken with tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, red wine, and herbs, chicken cacciatore is a popular option.
  • Grilled calamari: Just avoid the fried version – and you can top it with olive oil, lemon, and herbs.
  • Mussels in white wine sauce: Mussels are a low-calorie and – if you like seafood, of course – delicious option.

Best Choices at an American Restaurant

When you dine at an American restaurant, you have a lot of choices.  If you have your heart set on a juicy steak, choose a lean cut and stick to a smaller portion.  The sides can be heavy and high in calories as well, so you should choose a side salad or green beans.  Take a look at these menu choices for an American restaurant:

  • Grilled chicken: You can have it with a lemon pepper sauce and a side of green beans or broccoli.
  • Salad: Opt for a balsamic vinegar dressing (and avoid the croutons).
  • Six-ounce sirloin: Choose grass-fed beef if it’s an option, as it’s lower in fat.  Veggies as a side work well here.
  • Vegetarian dishes: Most vegetarian options are low in saturated fats and calories.

Best Choices at a Mexican Restaurant

Mexican food is a favorite for many people.  Eating Mexican on a diet can be a daunting task, however, starting with the chips and salsa.  You’ll want to skip these and order an appetizer instead. Stay away from the margaritas (but you can choose other options if you’d still like a drink), and avoid the rice and beans.  Try out this cheat sheet when it comes to Mexican food:

  • Ceviche: This is a low-calorie appetizer of seafood in citrus juices with chili peppers.
  • Fajitas wrapped in lettuce: Tortillas are high in carbs and calories, so replace them with a lettuce wrap.
  • Grilled vegetables: Order grilled vegetables in place of rice and beans.
  • Taco in a bowl: Ordering your taco in a bowl avoids the carby shell. 

Best Choices at a Chinese Restaurant

Whether you are ordering takeout or going to a Chinese restaurant, you should avoid fried foods and sauces that have a lot of sodium or cream.  Chinese food is delicious, and there are many different options. You can substitute brown rice for fried rice and ask for a fried egg on the side.  You can also ask for your sauce on the side so you can control how much goes onto your meal. This is a great way to avoid unnecessary calories. Try any of these healthy options at a Chinese restaurant:

  • Steamed dumplings: Vegetable dumplings that are steamed have fewer calories. 
  • Small egg drop soup: This soup will help you eat less later, as it’s filling, while only having around 66 calories. 
  • Beef and broccoli: Order it with brown rice.  You can also choose chicken and broccoli. 
  • Steamed vegetables (side dish): Broccoli, carrots, and snow peas are healthy and will help fill up your plate. 
  • Moo Goo Gai Pan: A dish of stir-fried chicken, mushrooms, and veggies, this dish has a light sauce.

Best Choices at a Thai Restaurant

Many people consider Thai food to be lighter and healthier than Chinese food, and there are a lot of healthy choices at a Thai restaurant.  However, you will want to avoid any of the fried dishes and the Thai rice. Spring rolls are deep fried, however, summer rolls are not. Take a look at these Thai choices:

  • Satay: Satay is grilled meat with a spicy peanut sauce.  
  • Thai vegetables: This is a flavorful side cooked with ginger, garlic, and chilies. 
  • Curry: For curry, you can choose a lean protein such as chicken or shrimp. 
  • Sauteed tofu: Just make sure that it’s sautéed, not fried. 

Best Choices at a Mediterranean Restaurant

When you eat at a Mediterranean restaurant, you’ll just want to watch out for any processed meats, refined oils, and grains such as pasta or bread.  However, Mediterranean has a number of healthy dishes that you can choose. While you’ll want to stay away from fried dishes such as falafel, you can opt for these healthy dishes:

  • Tabbouleh: This is a salad of chopped parsley, tomatoes, and bulgur, with olive oil and lemon juice.
  • Babaganoush: Babaganoush is eggplant, tahini, and olive oil, with healthy fats and a lot of fiber.
  • Fakes: This is a Greek lentil soup with lots of iron, protein, and fiber.
  • Fattoush: A salad with tossed greens, parsley, cucumber, tomatoes, and (some) toasted pita, fattoush also comes with mint and lemon.

Eating out isn’t always easy if you’re watching your calorie intake.  But going to the restaurant prepared, with some menu options in hand, can help you stick to your diet whether you’re out on the town – or just on lunch break from work.

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