How Can You Make Healthier Food Choices When Dining Out?

How Can You Make Healthier Food Choices When Dining Out?

When venturing out to dine, making healthy choices can be a challenge, but with tips from dieticians like a registered nutritionist who suggests starting with a salad, it's definitely manageable. Alongside expert advice, we've also gathered additional answers to provide a well-rounded set of strategies. From the simple act of opting for water to beginning your meal with a broth-based soup, here are eight practical tips to navigate the menu for a healthier dining experience.

  • Start With a Salad
  • Choose Lean Proteins
  • Eat a Colorful Variety
  • Opt for Water
  • Request Dressings on the Side
  • Swap Fries for Salad
  • Begin With Broth-Based Soup
  • Select Whole-Grain Bread

Start With a Salad

I have one useful tip that I share with clients about aspects of their diets, which is to balance and control the amount of food. Overpoweringly large portions and high-calorie foods can easily cause you to overeat when dining out. So, my best advice is to start with a salad or vegetable-based appetizer. This will not only stop your excessive hunger but also ensure you begin your meal with nutrient-dense foods.

Further, it is good to share main courses or ask for a half portion to prevent eating too much. A balanced plate containing vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can be key to maintaining healthy eating habits while enjoying restaurant meals.

Varsha Khatri
Varsha KhatriRegistered Nutritionist, Prowise Healthcare

Choose Lean Proteins

My tip: Opt for lean proteins. When dining out, I always advise choosing dishes that feature lean proteins such as skinless chicken or turkey, or lean cuts of red meat like pork or beef filet. It's best to steer clear of fattier cuts like pork belly or rump steak, and always trim away any visible fat. Also, be cautious with battered and deep-fried foods—even if they contain lean ingredients like chicken, fish, tofu, or vegetables, the coating significantly increases their fat and calorie content.

Renato Fernandes
Renato FernandesClinical Nutritionist, Saude Pulso

Eat a Colorful Variety

As an Institute of Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner who focuses on integrative and preventive care, I often advise my patients to "eat the rainbow" when dining out. This simple tip emphasizes choosing a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, which inherently pushes you toward more nutritious choices and helps ensure you're getting a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It's something I recommend particularly to my younger patients and their families, as it turns meal choices into a fun and engaging activity.

For example, if you're ordering a salad, don't just settle for iceberg lettuce and a couple of tomato slices. Aim for a mix that includes leafy greens, bell peppers, carrots, and even some fruits like berries or apple slices. This not only boosts the nutritional content but also makes the meal more visually appealing and satisfying. I explain to my patients that the more diverse their plate looks, the healthier it probably is, drawing on strategies like the "rainbow" analogy from my pediatric and general practice.

Additionally, I always advocate for starting meals with a source of lean protein, like grilled chicken or fish, and pairing it with healthy fats such as those found in avocado or olive oil. This is especially important for older adults to help maintain muscle mass and improve satiety. Dr. Phillips's advice on incorporating more balanced protein intake throughout the day is invaluable here—something as simple as opting for a Greek yogurt parfait with fruits instead of a sugary dessert can make a big difference.

Lastly, be mindful of portion sizes and the quality of fats in meals. This aligns with what Dr. Haase mentioned about emphasizing the quality of fats, opting for plant-based options, and the benefits of olive oil. A good rule of thumb is to always scrutinize the menu for items that mention "grilled," "steamed," or "roasted" rather than "fried" or "sautéed," and to not shy away from asking the restaurant to customize your meal accordingly.

Dr. Aaron Erez
Dr. Aaron ErezOwner, Erez Functional Medicine

Opt for Water

Choosing water over sweetened beverages is a smart decision when eating out, as it can significantly reduce the intake of unnecessary sugars and calories. Water is not only essential for hydration but also helps you feel full, which may prevent overeating. Sugary drinks often contain empty calories that contribute little to your nutrition but can add a lot to your daily calorie intake.

By simply opting for water, you prioritize your health and manage your calorie consumption more effectively. The next time you dine out, consider ordering water to accompany your meal and witness the benefits to your health.

Request Dressings on the Side

Having dressings and sauces served on the side gives you control over the quantity you consume. Restaurant dressings and sauces are often high in fats and sugars, which can turn a healthy meal into a calorie-rich one. By requesting these on the side, you're able to add just the right amount to satisfy your taste without overindulging.

This practice encourages mindful eating and helps you stay aware of the contents of your meal. On your next restaurant visit, ask for the sauces and dressings on the side for a healthier dining experience.

Swap Fries for Salad

Swapping out fries for a garden salad is an easy adjustment that enhances the nutritional value of your meal. While fries are a common side item, they are typically high in fat and salt, offering little in terms of vitamins and minerals. A garden salad, on the other hand, is a colorful addition to your plate that provides a variety of nutrients and fiber essential for good digestion.

This substitution not only offers health benefits but also introduces more textures and flavors to your meal. Consider choosing a garden salad instead of fries for a more balanced and nutrient-packed meal next time you eat out.

Begin With Broth-Based Soup

Starting your meal with a broth-based soup can lead to healthier eating choices. Such soups are generally lower in calories compared to their cream-based counterparts and can be rich in vegetables and lean meats. A warm bowl of broth-based soup can also curb your appetite, helping you eat less during the main course.

This smart choice helps you fill up on nutritious ingredients while leaving less room for higher-calorie dishes that might come later. Let your next dining experience begin with a serving of broth-based soup to set the tone for a meal that is both satisfying and health-conscious.

Select Whole-Grain Bread

Requesting whole-grain bread options when dining out is beneficial for maintaining a balanced diet. Whole grains are packed with fiber, which aids in digestion and can help you feel fuller longer, reducing the likelihood of overeating. These grains also contain more nutrients compared to their refined counterparts, such as vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids.

By choosing whole-grain bread, you're making a conscious decision to enhance your meal's nutritional profile. Make it a habit to ask for whole-grain options for a simple yet effective step toward a healthier lifestyle.

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