How to Eat Healthy at Restaurants

I definitely enjoy eating out.  It’s fun!!  I love the social aspect, the experience, and eating flavors I don’t know how to cook.  I enjoy cooking but I’m no culinary expert.  I don’t, however, eat out because I didn’t go grocery shopping and have no food at home, or I don’t want to cook.  These are mental traps that might get us stuck in unhealthy eating because we eat out a lot.  Here are some tips for eating out healthy.  I hope it helps.

  1. Loosen up.  This is my number one rule.  If you’re going out, have fun and enjoy it.  If your diet is mostly home-cooked, then you’ll leave the guilt behind.  Plus physiologically, guilt packs on more weight.  It’s not what we do once in a while that makes us fat and sick.  It’s what eat all the time.  Focus on doing “right” at home, and loosen up when you’re out.
  2. Scan menu.  Certain words are clear red flags such as crispy, breaded, fried, cream, alfredo, etc.  For better nutrition, look for grilled, steamed, baked, roasted, braised, broiled, seared, etc.
  3. Share.  My husband and I normally share an entree and a salad.  That feels like the best of both worlds to me because frankly, restaurant salads feel like a rip off.  It’s a big mound of lettuce.  I make way better salads at home and I don’t want to order salads all the time when I go out. Another idea for restaurants that serve gigantic portions is you can share one entree with an extra side of veggies, and save money.  Bonus!
  4. Ask questions.  I like asking about portion size.  Also, ask how it’s prepared or if there’s a sauce.  Sometimes, the wording isn’t very clear.  It helps to know what to order and expect.
  5. Substitute.  See if you can substitute the fries or chips for a salad or double the vegetables on the plate.
  6. Dressing on the side.  Always order dressing on the salad.  They often drown salads in dressing.  Make sure there’s not a bunch of unhealthy, processed ingredients in your salad too.
  7. Don’t go hungry.  Don’t ever show up to a restaurant starving.  If you’re like me, I’d order too much and overeat.  If you’re starving, grab a whole food snack (one ingredient snack).
  8. Drink lots of water at the table.
  9. Include exercise in your day.
  10. Balance.  If you’re stuck eating a few meals out in one day, make sure they aren’t all heavy, large meals.  Listen to your belly.
  11. Slow down.  Eat slow and you’ll eat less.
  12. Order off the menu.  Feel free to create a healthy meal of grilled protein and steamed veggies or salad.
  13. Box early.  If you get something huge, cut it in half and ask for a box right away.  I love left overs!
The take home message is – do great at home and simply enjoy when you’re out.  Don’t sweat it but do keep it to real food with minimal processing.
If you need help understanding nutrition and all the mixed messages out there, give us a call. We will address your stress level, eating habits, exercise, cravings, emotional eating, and overall health and happiness. Start with a free health consultation at or (619) 876-2655. See if this is the right match for you. I do things very differently to make health a natural lifestyle and this is not for everyone. Check out Yelp for other people’s opinion of Happy Food.
~ Samantha Hua, Nutrition & Holistic Health Coach, San Diego, CA