Making healthy choices when you eat out can be challenging, but it is definitely possible with some mindful decisions and sticking to your health and wellness goals.

How to make healthy choices when you eat out

What to eat when you go out

Here are some tips to help you make healthier choices when dining at restaurants:

Check the Menu in Advance: Many restaurants have their menus available online. Before you go, take a look at the menu and identify healthier options. This can help you make a decision before you’re faced with tempting choices.

Choose Grilled or Baked Options: Opt for dishes that are grilled, baked, or roasted instead of fried. These cooking methods generally use less oil and are lower in calories.

Portion Control: Pay attention to portion sizes. Many restaurant servings are larger than what you might need. Consider sharing a dish with someone or asking for a to-go box right away to save half for later.

Salad as a Starter: Start your meal with a salad or a vegetable-based soup. This can help you fill up on healthier options before the main course arrives.

Watch the Dressings and Sauces: Salad dressings and sauces can add a lot of extra calories and unhealthy fats. Ask for dressings on the side and use them sparingly.

Choose Lean Proteins: Opt for lean protein sources like grilled chicken, fish, or tofu. These are lower in saturated fats compared to options like red meat.

Load Up on Vegetables: Make sure to include plenty of vegetables in your meal. They are rich in nutrients and fiber, helping you feel full and satisfied.

Skip the Soda: Instead of sugary soft drinks, choose water, unsweetened tea, or sparkling water. Avoid excessive consumption of sugary beverages.

Ask for Modifications: Don’t be afraid to ask for modifications to your meal. For example, ask for a whole-grain bun instead of white bread, or request that your dish be prepared with less oil or butter.

Avoid All-You-Can-Eat Buffets: Buffets can be a temptation to overeat. If possible, choose a restaurant that offers single-serve portions.

Dessert in Moderation: If you want dessert, consider sharing it with others at the table. Alternatively, choose fruit or a smaller portion of a dessert.

Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Stop eating when you’re satisfied, even if there’s food left on your plate.

Limit Alcohol Consumption: Alcoholic beverages can add empty calories to your meal. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation.

Be Mindful of Hidden Calories: Some foods that may seem healthy, like salads with lots of cheese, nuts, and high-calorie dressings, can actually be quite calorically dense. Be mindful of these choices.

Practice Moderation: Eating out occasionally should be an enjoyable experience. It’s okay to indulge occasionally, but try to balance it with healthier choices on other occasions.

forks in a healthy food plate

Healthy food to eat out

Salads: Choose salads with a variety of colorful vegetables, leafy greens, and lean protein like grilled chicken or shrimp. Opt for vinaigrette dressings on the side to control the amount used.

Vegetarian and Vegan Options: Many restaurants now offer vegetarian and vegan menu items, which can be a healthy choice. Plant-based dishes often feature vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

Sushi: Sushi can be a healthy choice if you avoid rolls with fried or creamy ingredients. Opt for sashimi, nigiri, or rolls with fresh vegetables, fish, and avocado.

Stir-Fries: Asian restaurants often offer stir-fried dishes with a mix of vegetables and lean protein. Ask for these dishes to be prepared with less oil and low-sodium sauces.

Whole Grain Options: Choose whole grain options when available, such as whole wheat pasta, brown rice, or whole grain bread. These provide more fiber and nutrients than refined grains.

Soups: Opt for clear, broth-based soups with plenty of vegetables and lean protein. Avoid creamy, high-fat soups.

Grilled Vegetables: Many restaurants offer grilled vegetable platters or sides. These are a great way to add fiber and nutrients to your meal.

Fruit-Based Dishes: Look for dishes that incorporate fruits like berries, citrus, or apple slices. Fruit can add natural sweetness and fiber to your meal.

Customizable Options: Choose dishes that allow you to customize your meal, such as build-your-own salads or bowls. This way, you can control the ingredients and portion sizes.

Small Plates or Appetizers: Sometimes, ordering a few smaller appetizers or tapas-style dishes can be a healthier option than a large entree. Just be mindful of portion sizes.

Lean Toppings: When ordering pizza or sandwiches, opt for lean toppings like grilled chicken, turkey, or plenty of vegetables. Choose whole wheat crust or bread when available.

Seafood: Fresh seafood options like grilled or broiled fish can be a nutritious choice. Fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and protein.

Low-Sodium Options: If you have dietary restrictions or need to watch your sodium intake, ask if the restaurant can prepare your meal with less salt or use low-sodium alternatives.

Dishes with Nuts and Seeds: Dishes that incorporate nuts, seeds, or nut butter can add healthy fats and protein. Just be mindful of portion sizes, as nuts are calorie-dense.

healthy plates at a restaurant

Is it cheaper to eat out or cook?

In general, cooking at home is often cheaper than eating out at restaurants. Here are several reasons why cooking at home tends to be more cost-effective:

  • When you cook at home, you can buy ingredients in larger quantities, which can be more cost-effective. You can also take advantage of sales, discounts, and bulk purchases.
  • When you cook at home, you have more control over portion sizes, reducing the chances of overeating and food waste.
  • Cooking at home allows you to prepare larger quantities of food, creating leftovers for future meals. This can save you money by reducing the need to buy lunch or dinner the next day.
  • When you dine out, you often pay for the service, which includes tips and service charges. Cooking at home eliminates these additional costs.
  • You can select the quality of ingredients you use when cooking at home, potentially choosing higher-quality items at more affordable prices.
  • Eating out often involves paying for the convenience of not having to cook or clean up. Cooking at home saves on these convenience costs.

However, it’s important to note that the cost-effectiveness of cooking at home versus eating out can vary depending on several factors:

  • Your cooking skills and efficiency.
  • The type of cuisine you enjoy.
  • The availability of affordable ingredients in your area.
  • Your kitchen equipment and appliances.
  • The time and effort you’re willing to invest in meal preparation.

While cooking at home is generally cheaper, there are circumstances where eating out can be cost-effective, such as when taking advantage of special deals, happy hours, or discounts at restaurants.

If you want some ideas of things to cook at home, check out these meals with vegetables:

Ultimately, the decision between cooking at home and eating out should consider your budget, dietary preferences, time constraints, and lifestyle. Many people find a balance between the two, enjoying home-cooked meals most of the time while occasionally dining out for special occasions or convenience.

When you do go out, enjoy, but be mindful of these things above to meet the goals you have for your health. I’m rooting for you!