Dining out with an eye on health

There are lots of reasons to love going out to eat. With nearly 9,000 restaurants across the state of Arizona, there are also lots of options. 

Dining out is a great way to treat yourself to favorite dishes that you don’t like (or don’t know how) to cook. It’s also a great option when you're too busy to spend time in the kitchen. Sometimes, it’s simply the easiest way to get together with friends.

Yet sticking to a healthy diet can be tricky when you're at a restaurant— especially when you're tempted by large portions and the urge to splurge. With a little planning, though, and some menu smarts, you can enjoy a night out, and stick to your healthy-eating goals.

Plan ahead
Some things to keep in mind before you arrive at the restaurant:

Have a light snack first. Grab a piece of fruit or a glass of skim milk before you leave home. You’ll take the edge off your hunger, and have more control when you're ordering. If you go in super-hungry, you're more likely to over-order, and then overeat.

Choose your venue carefully. Look up the restaurant’s menu online before you go to make sure it includes some healthy choices. Some restaurants post a menu outside the entrance so you can take a look before you go inside. If not, you can always ask to see a menu before you’re seated.

Ask questions. Before you order your food, ask the server how it’s prepared, and what comes with it. For example, a salad might come with cheese and croutons, which are high in fat. Ask if they offer low-fat substitutions, or simply order the salad without them.

To help you navigate the menu, try these tips for each course:

Appetizers. When ordering your appetizer, go for salads, fresh fruit, steamed vegetables, broth-based soups, seafood cocktail, or raw veggies with a yogurt dip or salsa. Stay away from anything fried.

If you tend to go overboard with the bread or tortilla chips, take a small portion, then ask your server to remove the rest.

Main course. Foods described as fried, basted, au gratin, crispy, escalloped, pan-fried, sautéed, stewed, or stuffed are typically high in fat. Instead, look for entrées that are steamed, broiled, baked, grilled, poached, or roasted. You might also:

  • Order a smaller portion size. You may be able to get a half-portion or lunch-sized portion at dinner.
  • Have a salad first (with light or fat-free dressing!), then have an appetizer as your main course.
  • Ask for healthy substitutions. For instance, ask for sauces and dressings on the side, and vegetables prepared without butter.

Dessert. Lighter sweet options include fruit, sherbet, sorbet, or angel-food cake. 

Finally, remember to enjoy the whole experience of eating out, including the atmosphere and good company. Eat slowly, and enjoy every bite.

Sources: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; American Heart Association; Arizona Restaurant News, November 2019

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This information is provided for educational purposes only. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare providers regarding medical care or treatment, as recommendations, services or resources are not a substitute for the advice or recommendation of an individual's physician or healthcare provider. Services or treatment options may not be covered under an individual's particular health plan.