Other Restaurant Food

Eating in a sit-down restaurant doesn’t guarantee a healthy meal. Portions are often large and foods usually have a lot of fat and sodium added to them during cooking.

Try some of these tips for choosing healthier menu items:

Work with your server before you order. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the food. If your server doesn’t know the answers to your questions, ask him or her to check with the chef. Below are some types of questions you might want to ask.

  • Can the item be grilled or broiled instead of fried?
  • Which dishes have more vegetables?
  • Can a dish be stir-fried with less fat?
  • Is the soup made with broth or cream?
  • Can you get a baked potato or salad instead of fries?

Choose items that are baked, broiled, grilled, or poached instead of fried. Watch for clues on the menu. “Crispy” or “breaded” also mean fried.

Ask for sauces and salad dressings to be served on the side. They add flavor but can add lots of calories, sodium, and fat. Add sauces and salad dressing by dipping your fork into the sauce or dressing first, then spear a piece of meat or lettuce for a little bit with each bite.

Order the smallest size of meat. A grilled chicken breast is a better choice over half a chicken. Or choose a small filet instead of a 12-ounce steak.

If portions are large, eat just half of your meal. Save the rest for lunch another day. Think about splitting a dish with a friend. You can each order a salad and share a main course. This can also help you save money!

If you like trying new ethnic cuisines, consider the suggestions below:

At Thai restaurants:

  • Try steamed mussels, kebobs, Thai shrimp soup, Thai salads, curries, Thai chicken with vegetables, garlic shrimp, or beef with basil and vegetables.
  • Choose a small portion of steamed rice instead of fried rice or noodles.

At Mexican places, try to limit the chips you eat to a handful. If that’s hard to do, ask your server to take the basket away. Here are some more tips:

  • Fajitas made with lean beef, chicken, shrimp or vegetables are lower-fat choices.
  • Soft tacos (rather than fried taco shells) stuffed with chicken, lean beef, or seafood, and loaded with lettuce, diced tomatoes, and onions are a lower-fat choice.
  • Corn tortillas are usually lower in calories than flour tortillas.
  • Hold the cheese and sour cream or ask for them on the side for a sprinkling you can add yourself.
  • Smaller portions of Mexican rice, black or pinto beans, and salsa are good sides.
  • Beware of refried beans – some restaurants add lard to the beans when they make them, so ask your server or the chef to find out.

For Italian meals:

  • Choose minestrone or a bean and pasta soup, steamed clams, or a cold seafood salad as a first course.
  • For pasta, choose a half order with light tomato sauce with or without meat, a red or white clam sauce, or shrimp marinara.
  • Alfredo sauces and other cream-based sauces are very high in saturated fat and calories.
  • Try main courses such as chicken or veal cacciatore, veal or chicken piccata sautéed in olive oil, shrimp scampi cooked in olive oil, or grilled fish.

Meal Makeover

How many calories can you save and still enjoy a steak dinner?


  • 9 oz sirloin steak (450 calories; 0 grams of carbohydrate)
  • Medium baked potato (160 calories; 36 grams of carbohydrate)
  • ¼ cup sour cream (90 calories; 1.3 grams of carbohydrate)
  • 1 tablespoon butter (100 calories; 0 grams of carbohydrate)
  • House garden salad (130 calories; 11 grams of carbohydrate)
  • 2 tablespoons of blue cheese dressing (140 calories; 1.3 grams of carbohydrate)
  • 1 slice lemon pie (300 calories; 53 grams of carbohydrate)
  • 16 oz sweet tea (80 calories; 21 grams of carbohydrate)

Total: calories 1,450 calories; 124 grams of carbohydrate


  • Save 1/2 sirloin steak and reheat for lunch the next day (225 calories; 0 grams of carbohydrate)
  • Save 1/2 medium baked potato too (80 calories; 18 grams of carbohydrate)
  • Use half (2 Tbsp) of the sour cream on your plate (45 calories;
  • Use 1/3 of the butter which is about 1 teaspoon (33 calories; 0 grams of carbohydrate)
  • House garden salad (130 calories; 11 grams of carbohydrate)
  • 1 tablespoon low-fat Italian dressing (28 calories; 1 gram of carbohydrate)
  • Split dessert with someone else at your table, 1/2 slice lemon pie (150 calories; 26 grams of carbohydrate)
  • Unsweetened tea with sugar substitute (5 calories; 0 grams of carbohydrate)

Total: 695 calories; 56 grams of carbohydrate

You can cut 750 calories and 68 grams of carbohydrate with a few small changes!

  • Last Reviewed: November 6, 2013
  • Last Edited: April 7, 2014

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