Making healthy choices when eating out is something I struggle with. When I’m at a restaurant, I want to order something that I don’t make at home, like everything fried. Eating out is a treat for me, so I find myself wanting to indulge, but I’ve also learned that the extra basket of tortilla chips is almost never worth it.
For me, eating healthy doesn’t just mean having a salad; it also means eating naturally. Salads are great, but not when you load them with dressings made with a bunch of junk. The easiest way to eat healthy at restaurants is to order simply and consciously decide when it’s worth it to indulge.
10 Tips for Eating Healthy at Restaurants
- Research the menu online. Having an idea of what I want to order before arriving at a restaurant gives me much more willpower than showing up and wanting to order the first tempting thing that pops out to me on the menu. It also helps that many restaurants are now making their ingredient lists available online, making it even easier to choose a healthy option.
- Drink water. Water not only keeps you hydrated and saves you from drinking your calories, it also helps make you feel full.
- Avoid appetizers. Unless you’re making a meal from apps, skip the appetizers and save room for your entree. As tempting as those mozzarella sticks sound, engage in conversation with your company while you wait for your food, and your order will be out before you know it.
- Start with a salad. Fill up on veggies first, but watch out for all the tempting additions like cheese and creamy dressings. Keep things simple with fresh vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots. And as for the dressing…
- Dress with oil & vinegar. Creamy dressings are full of preservatives and unnatural ingredients. Most fat-free vinaigrettes are filled with sugar to make them taste better. To keep things simple and natural, I just ask for oil and vinegar (preferably extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar) on the side. I’ve never been to a restaurant that wasn’t able to provide this.
- Say no to seconds. “Would you like more chips?” is the most tantalizing phrase when I eat Mexican. I freely indulge in the tortilla chips when I’m out, after all they are made with just corn, oil, and salt. However, one basket too many and I’ve spoiled my dinner and wasted calories on a natural, yet not so nutritious, splurge. One basket is fine, but resist saying yes to round two.
- Order grilled, not fried. A classic way to eat healthy is ordering something grilled instead of fried, for obvious reasons. Fried has extra oil, extra breading, and usually lots of extra calories. Grilled skips the breading and even though it’s likely still cooked in oil, it’ll be a lot lighter and more wholesome meal than the fried option.
- Share. Not only does this save money, but it’ll keep you from over-eating. Most restaurants these days serve massive portions. Split an entree with a friend, and if you’re afraid there won’t be enough food, order an extra side of veggies.
- Have a go-to order for different cuisines. Here are some of my standards.
- Mexican: steak tacos on corn tortillas with guacamole and salsa.
- American: grilled chicken salad with avocado, berries, and oil & vinegar on the side.
- Brunch: 3-egg omelette with tomatoes, onion, and mushrooms with a side of fresh fruit and black coffee.
- Indulge intentionally. And at the end of the day, if you do decide to order something that’s not so healthy, be sure to consciously make this choice. Pair your indulgence with a side of vegetables and enjoy guilt-free.
What are your strategies for eating healthy at restaurants?
Many of these tips will also save you money! For more ideas on eating at a restaurant on a budget, read my post 9 Ways to Save Money When Eating Out.