How to Order Healthy at Any Restaurant

Eating out is one of the great joys of life. But if you're watching what you eat, a restaurant visit can sometimes feel like tiptoeing around nutritional land mines. Here are 10 top tips.
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You can still eat right when you eat out.

Photo by: Liv Friis-Larsen

Liv Friis-Larsen

1. Beware the word "crispy": "Crispy" is usually code for "fried," and "fried" is code for "dunked in batter and then plunged in oil" — not the healthiest food choice you can make.

2. Go for grilled, baked, broiled, roasted, braised: These cooking methods don't require much added fat, so the dishes that are prepared this way may be healthier. That's not to say the chefs aren't also going to add rich sauces, though; ask about preparation methods.

3. Start off with a soup or salad: If you start your meal with soup or salad, you tend to eat less during the rest of your meal, according to research. Vegetable-based soups and salads are a good way to get some fiber and other nutrients into your meal, which starts to fill you up.

4. If you do get soup, choose one with a clear broth: For the healthiest start to your meal, skip the cream-based options. It’s usually a safe bet to order something like pasta e fagioli (which has chicken broth, beans, veggies and pasta) or minestrone, rather than cream of broccoli.

5. Order leaner cuts of meat: T-bone, sirloin, flank steak, strip steak and pot roast are all lean cuts of beef and will have fewer calories and less saturated fat than some of the other options on the menu. Poultry is also a smart way to go, as is seafood or tofu (as long as we’re not talking about deep-fried tofu or fish and chips).

6. Do your homework: If you're really watching what you eat, it may be helpful to read the menu before you get to the restaurant and decide what you're going to order. If you’re eating at a chain restaurant, you can even look up the nutritional information ahead of time so you can make the healthiest choice.

7. Avoid processed and highly fatty meats: Pork belly may be really popular on restaurant menus these days, but it’s essentially a really fatty piece of meat — not healthy. Likewise, bacon, sausage and short ribs are items to avoid when you're trying to eat healthfully. They have way too much saturated fat and (in the case of the processed meats) sodium to really be good for you.

8. Skip the bread: If bread is the favorite part of eating out, then sure, go for a slice. But unless the bread is really great, it’s often not worth it.

9. Share dishes: A lot of restaurants serve way too much food. And while this may seem like a good value, it's really no bargain when it comes to your health. Your best bet is often to share a main dish. Then you can each start off with a side salad or soup. You get plenty of food (in an appropriate portion size), you save money and you keep calories and other numbers in check.

10. Order off the kids' menu: Another way to sometimes get the most portion-size-appropriate dish is to order off the kids' menu. Case in point: A burger on the kids' menu is usually 3 to 4 ounces (i.e., the correct portion size for a serving of meat), whereas on the regular menu it's often 8 ounces (a half pounder). Likewise, kids'-size fries or ice cream are not a huge calorie splurge, but you’ll get some of the indulgence you crave.

Kerri-Ann Jennings is a registered dietitian who writes on food and health trends. Find more of her work at kerriannjennings.com or follow her on Twitter @kerriannrd or Facebook.

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