Dining Out? You Can Have Delicious & Healthy Meals

If you are Dining Out, you can still make Healthy Food Choices

Making healthy food choices when dining out isn’t that difficult. But it does take some will-power. So whether you’re trying to lose weight or maintain your recent weight loss, you can still maintain your weight-loss success. And best yet, you don’t have to be on a diet to eat healthy, nutritious meals. In fact, if you eat food that’s a little healthier every day, you’ll be able to skip dieting and lose weight naturally. A Win/Win!

The following tips will help you move toward healthier eating as you limit your calories, as well as total fat, cholesterol, and sodium (salt) when eating prepared foods. There’s a lot of information, so we’ve formatted it for you to print so you can take it with you and refer to these Healthy Choices. So, the next time you are going out bring these tips with you!

You Are the Customer

  • Most restaurants will happily honor your requests, so don’t be too timid to ask.
  • Ask questions. Don’t be intimidated by the menu – your server will be able to tell you how foods are prepared or suggest substitutions on the menu.
  • To reduce portion sizes, try ordering a low-fat appetizer as your main meal, or share an entrée with a friend or family member.
  • Avoid all-you-can-eat buffets.
  • Review the menu online, if possible, and choose the healthiest option before you go to the restaurant.

Limiting your calories and fat can be easy as long as you know what to order.

Ask these questions when you call ahead or before you order.

Ask the restaurant whether they would, upon request, do the following:

– Serve fat-free (skim) milk rather than whole milk or cream

– Reveal the type of cooking oil used

– Trim visible fat off poultry or meat

– Leave butter, gravy, or cream sauces off the side dish or entrée

– Ask for salad dressing on the side (small dish)

– Accommodate special requests if made in advance by telephone or in person

Above all, don’t get discouraged. Most restaurants usually have several healthy options to choose from. They would rather have you as a happy customer that keeps coming back than one who avoids dining out because it can be unhealthy. If you frequent the restaurant, chances are they know you and will begin to anticipate your needs. They may even have some tasty recommendations of their own.

Maintaining Your Healthy Weight On the Go

When Dining Out – Look over the Menu – Eat This:

You can choose lower calorie, low-fat cooking methods and still have a delicious meal. Look for terms such as:

  • Baked
  • Boiled (in wine or lemon juice)
  • Broiled
  • Grilled
  • Lightly sautéed
  • Poached
  • Roasted
  • Steamed in its own juice (au jus)

Be aware of foods high in calories, total fat, and saturated fat. These can add additional calories and can turn the healthiest food into a high-calorie dish.

When Dining Out, Avoid foods prepared this way:

Watch out for these:

  •  Alfredo
  •  Au fromage
  •  Au gratin
  •  Basted
  •  Béarnaise
  •  Breaded
  •  Butter sauce
  •  Casserole
  •  Cheese sauce
  •  Creamed
  •  In cream or cream sauce
  •  Crispy
  •  Deep fried
  •  Escalloped
  •  Fried
  •  Gravy
  •  Hollandaise
  •  Marinated (in oil)
  •  Pastry crust
  •  Pot pie

Dining Out Choices for Every Meal

Dining Out Tips for Healthy Choices


  •  Decaf tea or coffee with fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk
  •  Fresh fruit or small glass of 100% fruit juice
  •  Whole-grain bread, bagel, or English muffin with jelly or honey
  •  Whole-grain cereal with fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk
  •  Oatmeal with fat-free milk topped with fruit
  •  Omelet made with egg whites or egg substitute
  •  Multigrain pancakes with fresh fruit or apple butter
  •  Fat-free yogurt (try adding cereal or fresh fruit)


  •  Water with lemon
  •  Flavored sparkling water (noncaloric)
  •  Juice spritzer (half fruit juice and half sparkling water)
  •  Unsweetened iced tea
  •  Tomato juice (reduced sodium)
  •  Fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk


While many yeast breads and bread sticks are low in calories and low in fat, the calories add up when you add butter, margarine, or olive oil to the bread.

Also, eating a lot of bread in addition to your meal will fill you up with unwanted calories and not leave enough room for fruits and vegetables.


  •  Broth-based soups
  •  Steamed seafood
  •  Shrimp Cocktail * (limit cocktail sauce – it’s high in sodium)
  •  Melons or fresh fruit
  •  Bean soups
  •  Salad with reduced-fat dressing (or add lemon juice or vinegar)


  •  Poultry, fish, shellfish, and vegetable dishes
  •  Pasta with red sauce or with vegetables (primavera)
  •  Look for terms such as baked, broiled, steamed, poached, lightly sautéed, or lightly stir-fried
  •  Ask for sauces and dressings on the side
  •  Limit the amount of butter, margarine, and salt you use at the table Salads/Salad Bars
  •  Lettuce, spinach, and other fresh greens
  •  Fresh vegetables – tomatoes, mushrooms, carrots, cucumbers, peppers, onions, radishes, and broccoli
  •  Chickpeas, kidney beans, and other beans
  •  Skip the non vegetable choices: deli meats, bacon, egg, cheese, and croutons
  •  Choose lower calorie, reduced-fat, or fat-free dressing, lemon juice or vinegar

Side Dishes

  •  Vegetables and whole-grain side dishes (brown rice, whole wheat pasta, etc.) make good additions to meals and can be combined for a lower calorie alternative to higher calorie entrée

* If you are on a cholesterol-lowering diet, eat shrimp in moderation.

  •  Ask for side dishes without butter or margarine
  •  Ask for mustard, salsa, or low-fat yogurt instead of sour cream or butter

Desserts and Coffees

  •  Fresh fruit
  •  Fat-free frozen yogurt
  •  Sherbet or fruit sorbet (these are usually fat-free, but check the calorie content)
  •  Try sharing a dessert
  •  Ask for fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk for your coffee (instead of cream or half-n-half)

Tips for Healthy Eating On the Go

If you’re dining out or bringing food in, it’s easy to find healthy foods. Knowing about typical American dishes, as well as other ethnic cuisines, can help make your dining experience healthy and enjoyable. The following list includes healthy food choices (lower in calories and fat) and terms to look for when making your selections. Let us know if you have a recommendation that works for you.


Bringing prepared food home from the supermarket is quick and easy and can be a great alternative to cooking after a long day at the office. Supermarkets often provide a wide selection of foods from various cuisines.

Print these out and take to the Supermarket or restaurant as a quick reference. Use the suggestions in each of these categories to guide your decision. One thing to keep in mind is portion size. Take-out portions can be just as large as restaurant portions. For more information on portion sizes, refer to Portion Distortion at NHLBI.NIH.gov.

Chinese Cuisine

Great Chinese Cuisine Selections

    •  Zheng (steamed)
    •  Gun (boiled)
    •  Kao (roasted)
    •  Shao (barbecue)
    •  Poached
    •  Lightly stir-fried in mild sauce
    •  Cooked in light wine sauce
    • Hot and spicy tomato sauce
    •  Sweet and sour sauce
    •  Hot mustard sauce
    •  Reduced-sodium soy sauce
    •  Dishes without MSG added
    •  Spinach or broccoli
    •  Fresh fish fillets, shrimp, scallops
    •  Chicken without skin
    •  Lean beef
    •  Bean curd (tofu)
    •  Moo shu vegetables, chicken, or shrimp
    •  Steamed rice
    •  Lychee fruit
    •  Hoisin sauce

* with assorted Chinese vegetables: broccoli, mushrooms, onions, cabbage, snow peas, scallions, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, asparagus

  •  Oyster sauce * (made from seafood)

French Cuisine

 Good French Cuisine Selections  

  •  Dinner salad with vinegar or lemon juice (or a reduced-fat dressing)
  •  Crusty bread without butter
  •  Fresh fish, shrimp, scallops, steamed mussels (without sauces)
  •  Chicken without skin
  •  Rice and noodles without cream or added butter or other fat
  •  Fresh fruit for dessert

Italian Cuisine

  Dining Out - Italian Food: Italian Cuisine  Good Italian Cuisine Selections

  •  Lightly sautéed with onions
  •  Shallots
  •  Peppers and mushrooms
  •  Artichoke hearts
  •  Sun-dried tomatoes
  •  Red sauces – spicy marinara sauce (arrabiata), marinara sauce, or cacciatore
  •  Light red sauce or light red or white wine sauce
  •  Light mushroom sauce
  •  Red clam sauce
  •  Primavera (no cream sauce)
  •  Lemon sauce
  •  Capers
  •  Herbs and spices – garlic and oregano
  •  Crushed tomatoes and spices
  •  Florentine (spinach)
  •  Grilled (often fish or vegetables)
  •  Piccata (lemon)
  •  Manzanne (eggplant)

Middle Eastern Cuisine

 Good Middle Eastern Selections

  • Lemon dressing, lemon juice
  • Blended or seasoned with Middle Eastern spices
  • Herbs and spices (parsley, rosemary, basil, dill, etc.)
  •  Mashed chickpeas
  •  Fava beans
  •  Smoked eggplant
    * Hoisin and oyster sauces are high in sodium (salt). Choose versions that are lower in sodium, or limit the quantity, particularly if on a low-sodium diet.
  •  Tomatoes, mushrooms, green peppers, and cucumbers
  •  Spiced ground meat
  •  Special garlic sauce
  •  Basted with tomato sauce
  •  Garlic
  •  Chopped parsley and/or onion
  •  Couscous (grain)
  •  Rice or bulgur (cracked wheat)
  •  Stuffed with rice and imported spices
  •  Grilled on a skewer
  •  Marinated and barbecued
  •  Baked
  •  Charbroiled or charcoal broiled
  •  Fresh fruit for dessert

Japanese Food

Japanese Cuisine

 Good Japanese Cuisine Selections   

  •  House salad with fresh ginger and cellophane (clear rice) noodles
  •  Rice
  •  Nabemono (soup/stew)
  •  Chicken, fish, or shrimp teriyaki, broiled in sauce
  •  Soba noodles, often used in soups
  •  Yakimono (broiled)
  •  Tofu (or bean curd)
  •  Grilled vegetables

Indian Cuisine

  Good Indian Cuisine Selections

  •  Tikka (pan roasted)
  •  Cooked with or marinated in yogurt
  •  Cooked with green vegetables, onions, tomatoes, peppers, and mushrooms
  •  With spinach (saag)
  •  Baked leavened breads
  •  Masala
  •  Tandoori
  •  Paneer
  •  Cooked with curry, marinated in spices
  •  Lentils, chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  •  Garnished with dried fruits
  •  Chickpeas (garbanzo) and potatoes
  •  Basmati rice (pullao)
  •  Matta (peas)
  •  Chicken or shrimp kebab

Mexican Food

Mexican Cuisine

Good Mexican Cuisine Selections

  • Shredded spicy chicken
  • Rice and black beans
  • Rice (particularly brown rice)
  • Served with salsa (hot red tomato sauce)
  • Served with salsa verde (green chili sauce)
  • Covered with enchilada sauce
  • Topped with shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, and onions
  • Served with or wrapped in a corn or whole-wheat flour (soft) tortilla
  • Grilled
  • Marinated
  • Picante sauce
  • Simmered with vegetarian chili or tomato sauce

Dining Out – Thai Food

Thai Cuisine

Good Thai Cuisine Selections

  • Barbecued, sauteed, broiled, boiled, steamed, braised, or marinated
  • Charbroiled
  • Basil sauce, basil, sweet basil, or basil leaves
  • Lime sauce or lime juice
  • Chili sauce or crushed dried chili flakes
  • Thai spices
  • Served in hollowed-out pineapple
  • Fish sauce
  • Hot sauce
  • Napa, bamboo shoots, black mushrooms, ginger, garlic
  • Bed of mixed vegetables
  • Scallions, onions

Dining Out – Steakhouse Cuisine


 Good Steakhouse Selections

  • Lean broiled beef (no more than 6 ounces) – London broil, filet mignon, round and flank steak
  • Baked potato without added butter, margarine, or sour cream (try low-fat yogurt or mustard)
  • Green salad with vinegar or lemon juice (or a reduced-fat dressing)
  • Steamed vegetables without added butter or margarine (try lemon juice and herbs)
  • Seafood dishes (usually indicated as “surf” on menus)

Fast Food

Good Fast Food Selections – Choose Grilled More Often . . .

  • Grilled chicken breast sandwich without mayonnaise
  • Single hamburger without cheese
  • Grilled chicken salad with reduced-fat dressing
  • Garden salad with vinegar or lemon juice (or a reduced-fat dressing)
  • Low-fat or fat-free yogurt
  • Fat-free muffin or cereal with fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk

Deli / Sandwich Shop Selections

 Choose These More Often . . .

  • Fresh sliced vegetables in whole-wheat pita bread with low-fat dressing, yogurt, or Mustard
  • Bean soup (lentil, minestrone)
  • Turkey breast sandwich with mustard, lettuce, and tomato
  • Fresh fruit

Saving Money While Eating Out

Another expense of eating out is its effect on your budget. Try these tips for making healthy choices eating out without overspending:

  • To reduce costs, start by eating out one less time per week.
  • Many restaurants provide portions that are large enough to make two meals out of one entrée. Bring half of your meal home for lunch or dinner the next day, or if dining with a friend or family member, order one entrée to share.
  • If you often meet a friend or colleague for lunch at a restaurant, and the weather permits, pack a lunch and sit outside, the fresh air and sunshine will make your meal even more enjoyable.

Foods in the Fast Lane

When you eat on the go, you don’t have to give up eating fast foods completely. You can eat right and still eat fast foods if you select carefully. Here are some tips on fast foods to choose:

  • Order from the dollar or value menu; the portions are often smaller than the regular size.
  • Order a small hamburger instead of a larger one. Try ordering a hamburger without cheese and extra sauce.
  • Order roast beef for a leaner choice than most burgers.
  • Order a baked potato instead of french fries. Be careful of high-fat toppings like sour cream, butter, or cheese.
  • Order grilled, broiled, or baked fish or chicken.
  • Order fat-free or low-fat milk instead of a milkshake. Or try the low-fat frozen yogurt or low-fat milkshake.
  • Order salad. Use vinegar and oil or a low-calorie dressing.
  • Create a salad at the salad bar. Choose any raw vegetables, fruits, or beans. Limit toppings high in saturated fat, such as cheese, fried noodles, and bacon bits, as well as salads made with mayonnaise. Also, limit salad dressings high in saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • For sandwiches, try whole-wheat bread topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard, and ketchup instead of toppings high in saturated fat, such as cheese, bacon, special sauces, or butter.
  • Order thin-crust pizza with vegetable toppings such as peppers, mushrooms, or onions instead of extra cheese, pepperoni, and sausage.

Fast Food Choices

Let’s see how small changes can add up. With changing just 4 items we were able to save 414 calories and 26 (g) Fat with just one meal. Imagine what you can do for a week or a month!

Typical Meal Calories Lower Fat Choice Calories
Cheeseburger 313 Hamburger 265
Large French Fries 487 ½ Small French Fries 112
Cola – 12 Ounces  136 Cola – 12 Ounces 136
Vanilla Ice Cream – ½ cup 137 Low-fat Ice Cream Cone 146
Total Saturated Fat (g) 13 Total Saturated Fat (g) 6
Total Dietary Cholesterol (mg) 71 Total Dietary Cholesterol (mg) 42
Total fat (g) 46 Total fat (g) 20
Total calories 1,073 Total calories 659  

And remember that it’s ok to treat yourself once in a while, this is a healthy lifestyle change that may take a little time to adjust to. But also remember that you are in this for the long-haul and you’ll thank yourself !

When you do go out, what is your favorite food?

Do you have any tips for eating out?

We are delighted that you took time out of your busy day to join us and hope you found the printable menu item ‘reminders’ helpful. Please let us know if you have any recommendations that you’d like to share. As always, wishing you the best of health! 

Adapted from National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

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Author: Joan E Wilder

We provide information and motivation focused on the importance of physical activity to our quality of life. It is our hope to help people invest in themselves by staying active throughout their lives. It's that important.

5 thoughts

  1. You have certainly invested some time in this post. It is nice to see the effort you put in to help others achieve healthier living. I would love to know if you receive feedback from people claiming to have downloaded and utilized this information. That would certainly make the time you invested more meaningful. Comments like, “very interesting” or “very informative” usually means “thank you anyway, unfortunately. Helping people implement quality changes in their lives can be quite challenging.

    1. Thank you for mentioning that Doctor – challenging it is, but if I can help just one person get and stay healthy, then I’ll be happy. Of course, I would love for all the good people who follow the site to gain some level of understanding and realization that this is for them and their quality of life. I volunteer at a senior home on Sunday’s and I often wonder if people exercised more often that they would stay out of a wheelchair, or who knows, maybe even be more independent and stay out of the home altogether. I can’t help but think (know?) that if they exercised they would be much more independent. Getting the professionals who, like me, sit too long to get up and move is my goal.
      I would like to think they are quietly moving just a little more often because of these efforts and being even a little more aware of the role nutrition plays in their health.
      Thank you so very much for stopping by – we love your visits!

      1. If people incorporated your suggestions, many people would experience better functional living. Even when people temporarily experience the benefits, it commonly isn’t enough to keep them motivated. This is why it needs to be REALISTICALLY incorporated into a pattern that is viewed similarly to our other daily rituals. We need to stop seeking immediate gratification when it isn’t a realistic likelihood.

    1. Why thank you! If you have any fitness topics or exercises you’d like to see please let us know – we’ll format them so you can print and refer to them as you exercise. Thanks for stopping by – we hope you visit often!

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