Monthly Health Message:

Tips for Eating Healthy When Eating Out

May 2010

Karen Ensle EdD., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

When eating out at a restaurant, keep portion sizes small and carefully select food and beverages for their healthfulness. Making wise choices will help keep your body and mind in tip top shape. Going out to eat should be a pleasurable, social experience with family and friends.

Take small steps to choose healthy foods and beverages. Start by following some of these tips:

  • As a beverage choice, ask for water or order fat-free or low-fat milk, unsweetened tea, or other drinks without added sugars.
  • Ask for whole wheat bread for sandwiches.
  • In a restaurant, start your meal with a salad packed with veggies, to help control hunger and feel satisfied sooner.
  • Ask for salad dressing to be served on the side. Then use only as much as you want.
  • Choose main dishes that include vegetables, such as stir fries, kebobs, or pasta with a tomato sauce.
  • Order steamed, grilled, or broiled dishes instead of those that are fried or sautéed.
  • Choose a "small" or "medium" portion. This includes main dishes, side dishes, and beverages.
  • Order an item from the menu instead heading for the "all-you-can-eat" buffet.
If main portions at a restaurant are larger than you want, try one of these strategies to keep from overeating:
  • Order an appetizer or side dish instead of an entrée.
  • Share a main dish with a friend.
  • If you can chill the extra food right away, take leftovers home in a "doggy bag."
  • When your food is delivered, set aside or pack half of it to go immediately.
  • Resign from the "clean your plate club" - when you've eaten enough, leave the rest.
    To keep your meal moderate in calories, fat, and sugars:
  • Ask for salad dressing to be served "on the side" so you can add only as much as you want.
  • Order foods that do not have creamy sauces or gravies.
  • Add little or no butter to your food.
  • Choose fruits for dessert most of the time.
  • On long commutes or shopping trips, pack some fresh fruit, cut-up vegetables, low-fat string cheese sticks, or a handful of unsalted nuts to help you avoid stopping for sweet or fatty snacks.

In summary, try taking some small steps to eat healthy food away from home. Consult restaurant menus or food product web sites and nutrition facts labels to increase your awareness of the content of food products. Make informed decisions on the food and beverages you decide to consume when eating out. Remember, think balance, not sacrifice. Make eating out an enjoyable and healthful experience.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences