Top 10 Smart Dining Out Tips

Eating right out is hard. Just the thought of ordering the “diet” or “heart healthy” plate with its 1/2 cup of grains, 3 oz protein, and 1 cup of veggies depresses me. Worse yet, the plain cottage cheese, grapefruit, and lettuce leaf, reminiscent of diets circa 1982.

Restaurant dining doesn’t have to be that way — not for weight loss or for maintenance. A few changes in the way you think about and change up your meals will translate into big calorie savings over time, boosting the calorie burn and inspiring that lean figure. 

  1. Shun the bun. To me, sandwich buns (breads, tortilla wraps, edible bowls, etc.) are just a huge waste of calories. First of all, they’re not special. They’re not cuisine; they don’t taste incredible. They’re primarily a means of eating with your hands without making a mess. Second, an average burger bun has around 200 calories, and the bulky rolls you get with your burger at some restaurants have 350 or more. For that many calories, you might as well have dessert or a big fruity cocktail, both of which would be more satisfying, right? Ask for your burger or sandwich in a lettuce wrap, or, as many restaurants now offer, in a steamed collard leaf. Or just take the bread off. If you want just a little, order a wrap or take off the top half. Either way, you probably won’t miss it.
  2. Abstain from grain. Same concept. At the Chinese restaurant, is the rice really what it’s about? Nope, it’s all about the sauce. Which brings us to…
  3. Double the veggies. At said Chinese place, skip the rice, double the veggies (order plain steamed), and order your fave dish. Add the veggies to your garlic shrimp or orange chicken or general Tso’s bean curd, and you you have the flavor and fullness you crave, with less risk of being hungry again in an hour (which often arises from the blood sugar spike and crash after eating sweet sauce and white rice; the veggies should ease that effect). Usually there’s more than enough sauce to thinly coat the veggies. Yum.
  4. Dressing on the side. I know, it’s boring and you’re heard it a thousand times. But it works. Dip the fork, take a bite. If you like your salad swimming in it, water it down first or add balsamic vinegar, and get a dressing that’s low in calories and sugar.
  5. Ease up on the cheese. Cheese is one of those foods that is mad easy to OD on because it’s so addictive yet packs in a ton of calories. Plus, cheese from restaurants typically aren’t served in tiny dice sized squares; they’re made into a fatty dip or deep fried or smother an already heavy sandwich. One mozzarella stick has about 100 calories; most orders have 5 sticks. 500 calories before the entree shows up? Resist. If you love cheese, use grated parmesan on your soup or salad, or share a cheesy app with your dining partners.
  6. Eat pizza. One slice. Unless you’re training and need a ton of calories, it’s hard to stay slim if you regularly indulge in pizza. You’re not going to find a slice for under 400 calories, unless you hold the cheese, toppings, and crust. So eat your slice, slowly savor every bite, and have a salad or broth-based soup with it.
  7. Eat soup or salad first. AND… Eat only half your entree. It’s simple math. Cut your cals in half, and add back just some. Plus, you’ll have a meal ready to go tomorrow.
  8. Pick-Two Rule. This tip comes from Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, which studies people’s eating behaviors. He recommends we pick two (or just one) among appetizer, caloric drink, and dessert. Bonus tip: his studies show that the first two bites of something yummy are the best. After that, enjoyment falls sharply. So savor two bites of especially rich foods, like dessert, and share or save the rest for later.
  9. Zap the pre-app app. Yes, some restaurants feed you the second your bottom hits the seat. Bread baskets, bowls of nuts, pretzel rods, crackers, breadsticks… I know you’re hungry, but just hold your ice water tight, take a deep breath, and figure out what you REALLY want! Don’t let boring pre-app apps spoil YOUR awesome appetite.
  10. Pace yourself with H2O. At a restaurant, water (or seltzer or club soda) is your BFF. It helps pace your drinking and eating by keeping your mouth busy, slowing you down, keeping you mindful, and keeping your belly full. Aim for at least 2 full glasses over the course of your meal. Add a lime wedge or a splash of cranberry or grapefruit juice if it helps with the appeal.


by Dina Aronson, MS, RDN

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