Diet & Nutrition
Eating Out

Eating out the Healthy Way!

by Amy Parker, RD
Amy Parker
Amy Parker

Canadians tend to eat out about 5 times per week, spending a third of their food budget away from home. Eating out provides a chance to celebrate or socialize, experience new foods or just an excuse to avoid cooking. However for many, fast foods and restaurants can be an obstacle to maintaining a healthy weight. Dining out poses many challenges to a healthy lifestyle:

  • Portion sizes are often larger
  • Food may be prepared with added fat or sugar
  • The meal may not offer 3 out of the 4 food groups to balance the meal. For instance, a fast food meal is usually devoid of vegetables and fruit.

If you eat out on special occasions, eat what you want and enjoy the meal. However, if eating out is a more regular occurrence, it is important to choose wisely. It isn’t impossible to maintain a healthy weight and eat out but it will require some thought and planning.

Choose Restaurants Wisely

  • Don’t wait until you are starving to find a place to eat, this will lead to an impulse decision and most likely an unhealthy one. Plan ahead and give yourself some time to choose.
  • Look for a place that offers menus with nutrition information.
  • If you are stuck with fast food, walk away from the pizza place or hot dog stand and look for places that offer fruit, yogurt, soup and sandwiches. Most fast food places now offer healthy options like salads and yogurt.

Select from the Menu Carefully

  • Refuse the bread/roll basket. Instead of filling up on the bread (and eating extra calories), you’ll have room to enjoy your meal.
  • Ask the waiter how a dish you are interested in ordering is prepared. See if you can request healthy substitutions (baked instead of fried, olive oil instead of butter).
  • Pass on gravies and sauces. If you have a salad, ask for dressing on the side.
  • Enjoy alcohol in moderation. Alcohol has almost as many calories per gram as fat does and contains no nutrients.
  • For dessert, try herbal tea or decaffeinated coffee. If you just can’t resist dessert, order something with fruit and split it with a dining partner.
  • Eat slowly and enjoy your meal.
  • Remember there is no need to clean your plate. Take a doggy’s bag home, often restaurant portions are enough for two meals.

Pass on the Fries - Make your own combo

  • Fast food restaurants tend to pair up unhealthy choices. It may be slightly more expensive to choose items separately but it is wiser for your health.
  • Order a salad to round out the meal- dressing on the side.
  • Consider having milk or 100% fruit juice instead of pop which contains lots of sugars and no nutrients.
  • Don’t “super-size” choices. Consider that a medium order of fries at a popular fast food joint contains 350 calories and 4 ½ teaspoons of fat; super-sizing will almost double the calories and bring the fat up to 7 teaspoons.

Consult the graph to see how you can make healthier choices at different types of restaurants.

 Healthier ChoicesChoices that are high in fat, sugar or salt
ChineseVegetable dishes, dishes steamed or boiled, wonton, hot and sour soups, dumplingsSweet and sour or deep fried dishes, egg and spring rolls, fried rice or noodles.
JapaneseTeriyaki or sukiyaki dishes, sushi, sashimi.Tempura, deep fried foods.
GreekGreek salad with dressing on the side, kebabs, hummus, tzatiki, pita.Spanakopita, ribs, baklava.
ThaiRice paper wraps, kabobs, satay, ginger or garlic dishes, fish, clear soups.Deep fried rolls, coconut milk, peanut or curry sauce, coconut rice.
MexicanFajitas, plain soft taco, Mexican rice, black beans, salsa, pico de gallo and gazpacho.Nachos, sour cream, taco salad, hard shell taco, guacamole, refried beans, chimichangas.
IndianLentil dishes, naan, mulligatawny or lentil soup.  Fish or chicken prepared in masala, tandoori or tikka style plain rice, dahl, chutney.Samosas, ghee, deep fried foods, coconut soup, meat, fish or poultry prepared in malai or korma style.
ItalianPasta with marinara, marsala, tomato sauces, cacciatore dishes, minestrone soup.  Ask for items grilled.  Bruschetta with little oil, vegetarian pizza.Garlic bread, alfredo, cream or cheese sauce.  Parmiagiana dishes, Caesar salad and risotto.


Burger placesVeggie burgers or beef burgers with tomato, pickle, lettuce and onion, grilled chicken on a bun with no mayo or special sauces.Burgers with cheese, special sauces and bacon, chicken nuggets or breaded chicken or fish burgers.
Pizza placesVegetarian, ham and pineapple.  Choose thin crust or whole wheat crust if available. Pepperoni, sausage or bacon topping, extra cheese, ranch style sauces, sour cream toppings.
Deli or coffee shopsLean or roasted meats or seafood, vegetables, low fat muffins, whole grain bagels, coffee and tea black or with skim milk.Sauces, mayo, sausage meats, deli salads, cream cheese, cream soups, coffee with cream, cheese breads, cinnamon buns or baked goods.
About the Author:

Amy Parker is a Registered Dietitian who regularly writes food and nutrition articles. She graduated from the University of Alberta and completed a one year internship in the Calgary Health Region. She currently specializes in prenatal nutrition and is passionate about helping her clients have the healthiest babies possible. Her other areas of interest include weight loss, childhood obesity and healthy food that tastes good too!


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