5 Healthy Tips for Eating Out

Shhhh! Let’s keep this post just between us gals. It could get me into a bit of trouble with my brother and sister-in-law. They’re both chefs whose livelihood relies on folks like us plunking down our cold hard cash to dine out. But recently I heard a few sobering tidbits that has me wanting to do anything but.

The researchers of a study published in the journal Appetite found people of normal weight took in about 30 percent more calories when eating meals in a restaurant versus at home. Another study published in Public Health Nutrition analyzed the calories of more than 30,0000 dishes served at 245 of the nation’s top chain restaurants. Here’s how the calories stacked up there:

A typical appetizer weighed in at 700 calories
A typical entree had 590 calories
A quarter of entrees had more than 890 calories.
Salads with dressing averaged 560 calories.


The takeaway? Eat at home more, out less.

Don’t tell my brother I said so.

When you do dine out, consider these five tips for keeping calories in check:

1. Share. Find a like-minded buddy at the table and split something, or share it with yourself (bringing half home for another meal). Ditto for dessert: make it a communal affair. Pick a favorite for the table and ask for extra spoons.

2. Keep the Lid on Liquids. Opt for water more often than not. When your kids order a special drink, ask your server to bring a reasonable size — eight ounces, not 16.

3. Know that Kids Menus aren’t so Kid Friendly Children’s menus are often lacking much in the way of food value. Explore the regular menu for healthier options and ask if the kitchen will prepare a child’s-size portion.

4. Limit the Bread Basket. The calories in rolls, tortilla chips, and other pre-dinner nibbles add up quickly, and fill you up without much nourishment, all before dinner arrives. Keep it to a single visit to the basket and then wait for your meal.

5. Fill up on Healthy Sides. Restaurant meals may be abundant in calories, but are often scarce in fruits and vegetables. Scan the menu for fruit and veggie options and ask for a side as either an appetizer or to accompany your main course. Sorry guys, creamed spinach, “loaded” potato skins, and garlic fries don’t count.

What are your tips for eating healthy when eating out?


08.02.2012 at6:53 AM #

Leah Borski

Hi, Katie! My family recently relocated with the Coast Guard via an 11-day cross-country road trip, requiring much more restaurant dining than we are used to (or enjoy!). We ended up avoiding the kids menus and ordering adult entrees to split between my 2 children, which offered some better choices. I wish more restaurants offered mini-portions. One thing I did in preparation for our trip was to stock a small cooler w/fruits, veggies & homemade muffins for times when healthy restaurant options were scarce.

Thanks so much for your tips & links to studies, as well!

08.02.2012 at6:53 AM #

Katie Morford

Hi Leah
Packing a little cooler is a great idea. Thanks.

08.02.2012 at7:55 AM #


To keep my own overeating in check when I dine out, I review the menu online beforehand. I find the healthiest option (usually vegetarian) and settle on that — that way when I arrive I’m not swayed by hunger, the luscious menu descriptions or the gorgeous food at a neighboring table. The other thing I do is forego wine and bread and a fattening main course so that I can splurge relatively guilt-free on my preferred vice: dessert!

08.02.2012 at7:55 AM #

Katie Morford

Thanks for that, Leslie. I do think a little forethought can be helpful….and making some choices about what you really want on that menu.

08.02.2012 at8:55 AM #


Great reminders Katie. Thank you!

08.02.2012 at10:00 AM #

Marion Taylor

Great tips Katie! I agree with Leslie about using information beforehand and making conscious decisions when dining out. I love that you shared how you’re brother is a chef, dining out is such an important part of our culture and there’s no reason it should be avoided altogether – the healthy lifestyle is always a balance. You may enjoy our most recent blog post about how programs are emerging for chefs to create healthier menu items! http://bit.ly/MjxKQJ

08.02.2012 at10:00 AM #

Katie Morford

Thanks for sharing the link, Marion. Nice to know there are folks out there helping guide chefs towards healthier menu options.

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