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General Tips for Healthy Dinning Out

Whether or not you're trying to lose weight, you can eat healthy when dining out or bringing in food, if you know how. The following tips will help you move toward healthier eating as you limit your calories, as well as fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium when eating out.

You Are the Customer

Ask for what you want! Most restaurants will honor your requests.

  • 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.
  • If you wish to reduce portion sizes - try ordering appetizers as your main meal.

General Tips: Limiting your calories and fat can be easy as long as you know what to order. Try asking these questions when you call ahead or before you order. Ask the restaurant "Do you or would you on request...":

  • Serve margarine (rather than butter) with the meal?
  • Serve fat-free (skim) milk rather than whole milk or cream?
  • Use less oil when cooking?
  • Trim visible fat off poultry or meat?
  • Leave all butter, gravy, or sauces off a side dish or entree?
  • Serve salad dressing on the side?
  • Accommodate special requests if made in advance by telephone or in person?

Above all else, don't get discouraged. There are usually several healthy choices to choose from at most restaurants.

Reading the Menu

  • Choose lower-calorie, low-fat cooking methods. Look for terms like steamed, in its own juice (au jus), garden fresh, broiled, baked, roasted, poached, tomato juice, dry boiled (in wine or lemon juice), and lightly sauteed or stir-fried.
  • Be aware of foods high in calories, fat, and saturated fat. Watch out for terms like butter sauce, fried, crispy, creamed, in cream or cheese sauce, au gratin, au fromage, escalloped, parmesan, hollandaise, bernaise, marinated (in oil), stewed, basted, sauteed, stir-fried, casserole, hash, prime, pot pie and pas-try crust.

Specific Tips for Healthy Choices


  • Fresh fruit or small glass of citrus juice
  • Whole grain bread, bagel or English muffin with jelly or honey
  • Whole grain cereal with low-fat (1%) or fat-free milk
  • Oatmeal with fat-free milk topped with fruit
  • Omelet made with egg whites or egg substi-tute
  • Multigrain pancakes without butter on top
  • Nonfat yogurt (try adding cereal or fresh fruit)


  • Water with lemon
  • Flavored sparkling water (noncaloric)
  • Juice spritzer (half fruit juice and half sparkling water)
  • Iced tea
  • Tomato juice (reduced sodium)


Most bread and breadsticks 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 extra unwanted calories and not leave enough room for fruits and vegetables.


  • Steamed seafood
  • Shrimp cocktail (limit cocktail sauce - it's high in sodium. also if you are on a cholesterol-lowering diet, eat shrimp and other shellfish in moderation.)
  • Melons or fresh fruit
  • Bean soups
  • Salad with reduced fat dressing (or add lemon juice or vinegar)


  • Poultry, fish, shellfish and vegetable dishes are healthy choices
  • Pasta with red sauce or with vegetables (primavera)
  • Look for terms like baked, broiled, steamed, poached, lightly sauteed or 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

  • Fresh greens, lettuce and spinach
  • Fresh vegetables - tomato, mushroom, carrots, cucumber, peppers, onion, radishes, and broccoli
  • Beans, chick peas and kidney beans
  • Skip the nonvegetable choices: deli meats, bacon, egg, cheese, croutons
  • Choose lower-calorie, reduced-fat or fat-free dressing, lemon juice, or vinegar

Side Dish

  • Plain vegetables and starches (rice, potato, noodles) make good additions to meals and can also be combined for a lower-calorie alternative to higher-calorie entrees
  • Ask for side dishes without butter or margarine
  • Ask for mustard, salsa or low-fat yogurt instead of sour cream or butter


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

Source: National Institutes of Health - U.S. Department of Healthy and Human Services - NIH Publication no. 05-5213 August 2005

Adapted by Editorial Staff, October 2007


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