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Tips: Dining Out on a Diet

Posted on September 15, 2016 at 9:56 AM by Lia Bahls, RD


We often get questions about what to eat when dining out. Some of the challenges patients can encounter include, large portions, high-calorie foods, high-fat foods and starchy food options. We’ve compiled some helpful tips and healthier options to look for when having a night out!



  • Research the restaurant menu and have a good idea of what you want prior to sitting down
  • Look for items with lean protein, vegetables and fresh fruit
  • Order the smallest portion; some places will offer half orders, which are usually closer to correct servings sizes
  • If smaller portions are not offered, consider splitting a meal with a companion
  • Ask for a to-go box or have the server box up 2/3 of the meal before serving, if you’re not sharing with a fellow diner
  • Eat slowly, chew thoroughly
  • Pass on or limit chips, breadsticks, rolls and any other starchy food. Remember that you don’t need to have a breadbasket at the table; you can request they don’t bring one.


When looking at a menu and trying to decide, look for and avoid these words:

Look For:





Battered or Tempura










Au Gratin, scalloped, smothered, carbonara, glazed or sticky


Extra cheese, butter


Confit (slated high-fat meat)


White sauce, hollandaise, béarnaise, béchamel, roux


Cream or cheese sauce


Bisque (Cream-based soup)




Don’t be afraid to ask for alternatives to sides and how they cook your meal. Here are a few things you can ask:


  • Steamed vegetables, fresh fruit or side salad as a side option instead of what may be offered, such as fries or a starch
  • Dressings, sauces, gravy on the side
  • To grill or bake protein instead of fry
  • To cook the dish without butter, oil or cream


Look for these healthy options on the menu!

Lean Protein Options:

Healthy Starch Options:

Grilled chicken

Plain oatmeal or hot cereal

Lean deli turkey breast or ham


Low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese

Brown rice

Veggie burger

Plain baked potato or sweet potato

Turkey burger

Corn on the cob

Egg whites


Low-fat or fat-free yogurt


Fish (not breaded or fried)



Below are some side-by-side comparisons of meals at some popular restaurants. Remember, sometimes it sounds healthy, but really isn’t, so always check the nutrition values!

Eat This:

Not That:

Subway : Oven Roasted Chicken Salad

(140 calories, 2.5 g fat, 10 g carb, 19 g protein)

Subway: Spicy Italian Salad

(310 calories, 23 g fat, 11 g carb, 14 g protein)

Applebee’s: Thai Shrimp Salad

(390 calories, 19 g fat, 32 g carb, 23 g protein)

Applebee’s: Grilled Shrimp ‘N Spinach Salad

(1000 calories, 66 g fat, 67 g carb, 44 g protein)

Red Lobster: ½ portions Wild-Caught Flounder oven-broiled with broccoli

(220 calories, 4.5 g fat, 33 g protein, 7 g carb)

Red Lobster: ½ portions Wood-grilled Lobster, Shrimp & Salmon

(425 calories, 25g fat, 31 g protein, 17 g carb)

Panera: ½ Smoked Turkey Breast Sandwich on Country

(220 calories, 2 g fat, 34 g carb, 16 g protein)

Panera: ½ Bacon Turkey Bravo Sandwich on Tomato Basil

(390 calories, 13 g fat, 42 g carb, 26 g protein)

Arby’s: Roast Beef Sandwich

(360 calories, 14 g fat, 35 g carb, 23 g protein)

No bun

(130 calories, 7 g fat, 1 g carb, 16 g protein)

Arby’s: Fresh Market Roast Turkey and Swiss Sandwich

(700 calories, 28 g fat, 77 g carb, 39 gprotein)


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