How to Dine Out Without Ruining Everything

Ever find yourself doing really well on your health goals? Like really getting in a groove and thinking, “I got this!” Then your friends or colleagues invite you to lunch and everyone’s getting the ribs, so you get the ribs. With fries. A cheesy appetizer. And there’s bread on the table.

In just one meal you go from “I got this” to “Dammit, I ruined everything.”

First off, one meal can’t completely derail your health goals. But if you’re dining out every week or two, that can spell trouble.

Second, it is possible to eat out regularly while sticking to your goals. With a few tips! And, spoiler alert, a lot of salad.

There are two main ways restaurants make it tricky to stick to your goals:

  1. The (often hidden) amount of fat

  2. Portion sizes

Here’s how to address those two issues:

Decreasing fat

Restaurants love to go overboard on butter, oil, heavy cream and a cow’s worth of melted cheese. It tastes good! And food that tastes good means more customers and better Yelp reviews.

Here’s how to avoid all that hidden fat, while still eating good food:


  • Foods that are fried, breaded or sauteed

  • Cheese, phyllo dough, nuts and mayonnaise

  • Anything creamy (soup, sauce, pasta, etc)

  • Red meats

  • “Extras” on your table (bread, etc.)

Instead choose:

  • Foods that are grilled, steamed or raw

  • LOTS of veggies

  • White meat or seafood

  • Wholegrains

  • Steamed or grilled veggies or a salad in place of fries

  • Sauces and dressings on the side

If you really want something “unhealthy”, go for it! Just make it more like a side dish. Order a salad (dressing on the side) and a burger, but cut the burger in half immediately and take the other half home. And definitely forgo the fries.

Portion sizes

It isn’t just the sizes, it’s also the ratios. A healthy plate is half veggies, a quarter protein and a quarter carbs. Unfortunately, restaurants often skew the other way with veggies as little more than a garnish.

To take control of portion sizes:

  • Ask for half portions

  • Never have carbs as your main meal component

  • If you’re having an appetizer, make it a salad or other veg-focused option

  • Swap fries, rice or potatoes for steamed or grilled veggies

  • Instead of a main, choose 2 or 3 appetizers instead, which allows you to control your plate makeup better

More tips:

  • Decide what you’ll order ahead of time (and on a full stomach) and avoid looking at the menu once you arrive

  • Try to order before your friends so you don’t change your mind at the last minute

  • Share foods when you can

  • Keep a healthy plate in mind (more vegetables, whole grains, protein)

  • Accept the salad. Make it your new best friend. It doesn’t have to be the only thing you eat, but making it the biggest thing you eat will go a long way.

Meal ideas:

  • Oysters, side salad, one piece of bread

  • Tartar and a side salad

  • Sashimis, 4 makis and edamame or seaweed salad

  • Salad with grilled chicken, quinoa and dressing on the side

  • Mussels are great, but hold the fries and have one piece of bread and side salad instead

  • Grilled salmon and veggies with brown rice

  • Half portion of pasta in tomato (not cream) sauce and a side salad or steamed veggies

  • Minestrone soup and a salad

So, yes, healthy dining out does mean a lot of salad. But you don’t have to only eat salad. Eat foods you like, just in reasonable portions. And chant the healthy eating mantra: “Veg, veg, veg, veg.” Drill that into your mind so if Karen from Accounting orders fries for the table… again (dammit, Karen!)... you can get yourself a starter salad and feel good about it. Then mess with Karen’s desk chair.

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