Eating Out

How to find the most nutritious choices on the menu.

Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N
4-minute read
Episode #35

Whether or not nutrition information is provided on the menu, and regardless of how reliable it may be, it is possible to find the healthier dishes by reading menu descriptions carefully and learning to watch for certain code words.

The words “creamy,” “crispy,” and “smothered,” for example, are all code for “slathered in fat.” I’d also be on guard against items described as “rich,” “thick,” or anything topped with several kinds of cheese. Instead of dishes that get their flavor from heavy sauces, look for the simpler preparations. Words like “steamed,” “seared,” “poached,” or “grilled” signal a lighter, leaner style of cooking.

Ordering Strategies

In addition, there are a couple of ordering strategies that can help you get a healthier meal without feeling like you’re left nibbling nothing but garnishes.

  1. Request that salads and other dishes be lightly dressed or sauced. Sauces and dressings are where all the calories hang out and most kitchens apply them with a heavy hand. Asking for things to be lightly sauced or dressed usually results in a lower-calorie plate, not to mention a better-balanced and tastier dish.

  2. Inquire about half portions. Except for those frou-frou nouvelle cuisine restaurants where everything is the size of an ice cube, most restaurant portions are two or three times what any normal person should be eating at a meal. Even if they are not listed on the menu, many kitchens will serve half-portions upon request.

  3. Ask for the veggie of the day. Although they may not be listed on the menu, most restaurants will have one or two fresh vegetables that they are serving on any given day. These can often be requested in place of potato or French fries.

Finally, you’ll have an easier time finding healthy menu options if you pick your restaurant carefully. As much as I love Indian food, most Indian restaurant meals are very high in fat and calories, for example. Sushi restaurants, on the other hand, are a great place to get a light, nutritious meal. Pub grub is usually heavy on fried foods, whereas a grill will have more healthy choices. Diners tend to specialize in things covered with cheese, gravy, or syrup; a bistro usually has entrée salads and other lighter options.

You can also take advantage of the “small plate” trend by seeking out Spanish or Middle Eastern restaurants that serve tapas or mezze. Instead of ordering an entrée, you make a meal out of small “tasting” portions of three or four different dishes. You can turn any restaurant into a small plate restaurant, by the way, by ordering two or three appetizers as your meal. Just remember, when selecting appetizers and small plates, to apply all of the guidelines we just talked about. Avoid the crispy chicken smothered with three cheeses, and go for the grilled shrimp on a bed of spinach!

If you have a comment about today’s show or a nutrition question for me, post it on the Nutrition Diva page on Facebook

Have a great day and eat something good for me!


Tips for Eating Out (American Heart Organization)

Healthy Tips for Eating Out (American Restaurant Organization)

Nutrition Diva page on Facebook