Ask an Expert: Foolproof Tips for Keeping It Healthy When Eating Out

women eating in restaurant

image: Getty

We’re more likely this time of year to eat out, whether it be during vacation or your run-of-the-mill social gathering (warm weather naturally makes us social butterflies!). But instead of feeling guilt after every mouthful, make the right decisions BEFORE the bread basket even arrives. Allow the following top nutritionists to school you on how to eat healthy while dining out. 

Don’t Feel Like You Need to Order an Appetizer

“I tell my clients to get comfortable with the uncomfortable,” says Dana Kofsky, certified nutritionist and founder of Nutrition Styles. “It’s not your problem if someone else finds it off-putting if you don’t order something to start.” Appetizers will, more often than not, cause you to overeat, so order only one when something is truly enticing.

Skip the Bread and Butter

And the salsa and chips. Instead, order a vegetable soup or side salad. “Pennsylvania State University found that people who eat a large, leafy green salad with lunch or dinner consume 12 percent fewer calories than when they don’t have a salad beforehand,” says Teresa Cutter, nutritionist, French-trained chef and CEO of The Healthy Chef. “The fiber in the salad fills you up and the acetic acid in the vinegar [dressing] helps to suppress the appetite and slows the speed at which our stomachs empty.” This way, you’ll be content without filling up.

Order Beyond the Menu

It’s a restaurant, after all. Ask for what you want. “Don’t feel limited to order what’s on the menu,” says Stacy Goldberg, nutritionist for the Cleveland Cavaliers and founder of Savorfull. “Example: Ask for avocado on a salad for healthy fats or as a replacement for cheese.”

Salads Can Still Be Nutritious

They may be getting a bad rap lately, but when ordered correctly, they’re still the way to go. “Start with greens as the base, add a protein like beans or fish, add a grain or starchy vegetable like wild rice or sweet potato and fill in with lots of vegetables like tomato, asparagus, onion and artichokes,” says Angela Onsgard, RD from Miraval Resort & Spa. Then, of course, skip the croutons and cheese and stick with vinaigrette dressings.

Watch the Portion Size

“Stick with appetizer-size portions for your main entrée,” says Goldberg. “Quite often these are enough and you’d need an entrée.” Or separate your entrée in half right away by splitting with a friend or saving for the doggie bag.

Choose Your Veggies Correctly

Not all vegetables are created equal. “Anytime you order vegetables, get them steamed,” says Darin Hulslander, a certified nutritionist in Chicago. “Sauteing not only adds hundreds of calories of oil generally, but it cooks out most of the antioxidants and nutrients that veggies are known for.”

Request Olive Oil over Butter

“When you can, make sure the restaurant uses olive oil and not butter,” says Kofsky. “If olive oil is not an option, I ask them to steam the dish.”

Make Over Your Favorites

In theory, Mexican cuisine shouldn’t be too unhealthy. Ask for lettuce wraps or veggies with your salsa. “Ask for all dressings and sauces on the side and no sour cream or cheese,” says Cutter. For pizza, opt for wood fired, thin crust and whole grain, if you can. 

Give Alcohol the Flick

“Or at least reduce it to only a few glasses a week,” says Cutter. Not only does it affect your willpower, but “it affects the absorption of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids.” So, any healthy dish you just ordered went out the window.

Ignore that Sweet Tooth

Here’s some tough love for ya. “If hunger is not the problem, food is not the solution,” says Kofsky, especially regarding dessert.

That’s advice (while kind of a downer) we can use for the entire eating-out experience.