Your ultimate cheat sheet for dining at your favorite restaurants while sticking to your healthy eating habits
Your social life doesn't have to suffer just because you want to eat healthier. In fact, you can still dine out with friends and stick to your healthy diet. The trick is to bypass high-calorie menu items and instead order off the menu or ask for wholesome twists on the restaurant's dishes.
"Restaurants do not like to advertise this because it makes more work for them, but pretty much anything on a menu can be cooked to order," says Cristina Rivera, President of Nutrition in Motion, P.C. "The key to ordering off a menu is in the preparation.”
Ask for protein-rich eggs and you're good to go. "I'm a big fan of eggs," says Amy Hendel, nutritionist and health coach. "Usually at diners, cafes, and even pit stops, you can get hard-boiled or cooked eggs. If cooked, ask them to substitute a bit of oil for butter, and see if they can throw in vegetables or a side of sliced tomatoes. If hard-boiled, add fruit or a salad on the side, and put on the dressing by the teaspoon yourself.” (Eggs are a protein-rich superfood. 7 Things Your Didn't Know About Eggs.)
Even if your favorite pizza place doesn't have Hendel's healthier option on the menu, chances are they can whip it up: a thin crust pizza piled high with veggies and light on the cheese.
Ignore the fattening sandwiches at your local deli, and instead ask for a simple variation around 350-400 calories. "Order a turkey avocado sandwich: two slices of whole grain bread, turkey, avocado, mustard, and as many fresh veggies as you'd like," says Kristen Carlucci, RD, registered dietitian and nutrition expert for Pitney Bowes Inc.
Hendel suggests an order of the leanest cut of beef or grilled chicken, accompanied by a dinner salad with dressing on the side.
Tons of nutritious off-menu meals are available at many Greek/Mediterranean restaurants. "Order salad with feta cheese and dressing on the side; pita filled with salad and hummus; or salad with hummus, garbanzo beans, and dressing on the side," Hendel says.
"To keep things healthy, choose tacos with grilled or shredded chicken or beef, and spice them up with lots of salsa fresca," says EA Stewart, RD, nutrition consultant and author of The Spicy RD blog. "I usually choose beans as a side over rice, as they are much higher in fiber and fill me up." You can also indulge in some heart-healthy guacamole, just not too much, as avocados are still high in calories. (Also try these 10 Mexican Dishes for Staying Slim.)
Opt for BBQ chicken breast accompanied by a baked potato and dinner salad. "Pull off the chicken skin if possible and ask for dipping sauce on the side," Hendel says.
You may think Italian cuisine equates to carb heaven, but you can still keep your meal light with to Carlucci's tips. Go for a half-sized portion of whole-wheat pasta primavera or cioppino, a hearty fish stew in a tomato and wine sauce.
Request pinto beans, rice, and veggies. "It's a good protein meal," Hendel says. (Plus, add these 8 Healthy Foods You Should Eat Every Day.)
"Order a burger without the bun, or remove one slice of the bun for an open-faced sandwich filled with tomato, lettuce, and onion," Carlucci says. Instead of French fries, ask for a baked sweet potato or side salad.
"I love Middle Eastern food," Stewart says. "Kebabs with grilled veggies is always a healthy choice.”
Greasy Chinese food doesn't have to be your downfall! Rivera suggests asking for steamed chicken, shrimp, or tofu with vegetables and brown rice. (Order smart the next time you're at a Chinese restaurant with our 5 Low-Calorie Chinese Dishes and 5 to Skip.)
Rivera says to ditch the pad thai (no matter how it good tastes!) and ask your server for tom yum soup, grilled lemongrass chicken or salmon, green papaya salad, or any steamed fresh fish.
Stewart says that the key to eating healthy at brunch is portion control. "Choose small portions of your favorite entree or two, then fill the rest of your plate with fresh fruit and green salad with dressing on the side," she says.
Stewart recommends ordering the tandoori chicken, but giving it a kick of flavor with spicy chutney and mint cilantro sauce. (Be sure to check out these Surprising Healthy Eating Habits from Around the World.)