7 Ways You Can Stick to a Healthy Diet at Restaurants

You might make sure your home-cooked meals are loaded with healthy fats, green veggies, and minimal sugar, but when you go out to eat, this could be a completely different story. You might taste delicious food and try an inventive cocktail or two, but before you know it, you could throw your diet into a tailspin and leave feeling like you’ve undone all of your healthy eating. The truth is you can go out to eat with your friends and maintain your diet without having to go straight for the salads on the menu. Here are seven tips to help you stay on track and still enjoy eating out.

1. Skip the freebies

Group of friends enjoying an evening meal at a restaurant

Group of friends enjoying an evening meal at a restaurant. | iStock.com

If you’re going out to dinner with a table full of your friends, chances are your server will bring fresh, warm bread before you order your meal. If you’re in a Mexican restaurant, this might be free tortilla chips and salsa. While a slice of bread or two may sound tempting, you can sabotage your diet by going for the free food. If you choose to order an appetizer and a large dinner, that bread could be adding hundreds of calories before the real eating even starts. Plus, The Daily Meal explains the simple carbohydrates in bread stimulate insulin production, which actually makes you hungrier. If you were planning on eating light, that bread could seriously backfire.

2. Opt for healthy sides

Happy woman eating green apple

Order a salad as a side. | iStock.com

If you’re really craving a big, juicy burger for dinner, it ‘s easy to simply get fries instead of looking at the healthier options that might accompany it. Livestrong.com says a single hamburger can be easy to fit into your diet, but only if you make smart choices for the rest of your meal.

If you’re going for an indulgent dish, then ask for a side of fresh fruit, steamed veggies, or a salad. Most restaurants have heart-healthy sides you can substitute for the fries, which will save you hundreds of calories. And just say no to a milkshake as your beverage.

3. Never choose fried

Fried ravioli with marinara sauce

Never order fried foods. | iStock.com/bhofack2

That fried chicken sandwich all of your friends are ordering may sound delicious, but you’ll be feeling its effects long after you’ve finished eating. Men’s Fitness explains fried foods take longer to move through your digestive system, making you feel extra tired and sluggish after you’ve eaten. If you plan to work out the next day, you might feel like your endurance is suffering. Instead of weighing yourself down, ask which options can be grilled or baked instead.

4. Choose your drinks carefully

Restaurant cocktail

Ordering a sugary drink should be off limits. | iStock.com

Even if you go for the healthiest menu item with fresh veggies and minimal saturated fats, an alcoholic beverage can sabotage your feel-good dinner choice. The key is to go for something you know to be low in calories. Think liquor and soda water with fresh squeezed lime juice instead of that sugar-loaded margarita. Or go for a glass of red wine. Yes, one glass.

And don’t forget about hydration. Health says alcohol can really sabotage a diet if you’re not going slow or drinking enough water. With every alcoholic drink, make sure you’re drinking water to slow the rise in your blood alcohol level.

5. Control your portions

fresh salad with kale, tomatoes, and oranges in a blue bowl

Eat to feel satisfied. | iStock.com

Even if you order a salad with plenty of fresh veggies and grilled protein with low-fat dressing, your restaurant of choice could bring you a salad that’s three times larger than what you really need to feel satisfied. And when you’re chatting with your friends and having a good time, you might not notice how much you’re eating.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says to be deliberate in your approach to food — dish out a smaller portion to eat during your meal, and save the rest in a to-go box for later. You can also order an appetizer with a healthy side like steamed veggies or a salad instead of a huge entrée. This will limit your portion size to begin with so you won’t feel tempted to eat your entire meal in one sitting.

6. Choose the right restaurant

Looking at the menu of a restaurant

Check the menu before you choose a restaurant. | iStock.com

If you get to choose the restaurant, do you research beforehand. Take a look at the menu online to see what kind of food the restaurant serves. Pick fresh cuisine that your guests will enjoy and you can feel good about eating. Additionally, the American Heart Association suggests never going to any kind of all-you-can-eat restaurant. You might get more food for your money, but you’re also likely to to go overboard.

7. Use the three-bite rule

Woman eating fruit cake

If you must get something sweet don’t overindulge. | iStock.com

If you really want that dessert you’ve been eyeing since you walked into the restaurant, know you have options to indulge a bit. Prevention recommends the three-bite rule, meaning you take three bites of your indulgent food, then set it aside. Giving yourself a taste of the food you really crave makes you feel like you’re not really missing out on anything, and you’ll be less likely to crave it later. The beauty of this rule, particularly when it comes to dessert, is that you may realize all you wanted in the first place was a taste of something sweet to finish off your meal.