Health Tips > Nutrition Bites > 5 Simple Steps to Eating Smart When Dining Out at Restaurants

5 Simple Steps to Eating Smart When Dining Out at Restaurants

View All Section Pages

5 Simple Steps to Eating Smart When Dining Out at Restaurants

Research by the USDA shows that 32 percent of our caloric intake comes from meals prepared away from home. It is estimated 20 percent of American meals are eaten in the car, meaning fast food might be the only option for those with long commutes and an “on-the-go” lifestyle. So it should be no surprise that total calories consumed per day over the last 30 years have increased by an average of 200 calories. This could add up to a 20-pound weight gain in one year!

So what can we do when our work schedule and family commitments interfere with our attempts to follow a healthy diet and maintain an ideal weight? Think of SOUPS! Not the actual entrée (although broth-based soups tend to be low in calories compared to cream-based), but a pneumonic device to assist you in making sensible choices when dining out every time.

Take control when you dine away from home by following the S.O.U.P.S. method.

Start with Salad: Filling up on fiber-rich, low-calorie vegetables will keep you from overindulging when the meal comes. Watch out for croutons, cheese, bacon and dressings—they can add excess calories and fat to an otherwise healthy choice.

On the Side: You can request to have salad dressings and sauces on the side. If you dip your fork into the dressing or sauce first and then into your food you can still get the flavor without adding unnecessary calories. Be assertive when placing your order, ask them to go easy on (or eliminate) butter and oil when preparing your meal.

Unsweetened Drinks: Beverages are an overlooked source of empty calories, and they can add up with every refill. Choose water most of the time, or go for unsweetened tea, skim milk or diet soda. For example, a sweet iced green tea at Panera Bread contains 90 calories and 32 grams of sugar in just 16 ounces.

Plan Ahead: Technology is your friend when it comes to choosing the healthy option at most chain and fast food restaurants. Healthy Dining by KWM app is available for free and gives you nutrition information for hundreds of top restaurants at your fingertips. Or visit where registered dietitian nutritionists make recommendations for the healthiest options at almost 400 different restaurants. Choose what you will order before you arrive and you will be less likely to give in to temptation.

Split Entrees: Shrink your meal by sharing it with someone. Before the entrée arrives, plan to box up half of your food to take home. Order from the lunch menu, if available. This same tip works for desserts; split it with a friend or choose the “mini” option. Portion sizes have more than doubled since the 1950s and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people will consume 30 percent more if they are offered larger helpings. Use the plate method as a guideline for a balanced meal—half of your plate should contain fruits and vegetables.

You can make small changes and still reap healthy benefits. Let’s take a look at how you can save an extra 200 calories:



Calories Avoided

Drink water with meals instead of regular soft drinks

187 calories in 16 oz. regular Coke

Go easy on bread and butter before a meal

220 calories in 1 slice of French bread and 1 Tbsp. butter

Dipping your fork into a side of dressing before dipping it into your salad

160 calories in 4 Tbsp. of light ranch dressing (typical side serving amount)

Split dessert with your dining companion

180 calories in half of the Applebee’s Brownie Bite with vanilla ice cream scoop.

A final thought: Enjoy the experience of dining out. Take in your surroundings, relish time with friends and family rather than focusing on food. Pace yourself, if possible, setting down utensils between each bite of food. Remember it takes 20 minutes for your body to signal to your brain that you are full. Know that, dining out does not have to be a diet disaster!

For more information about Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services or to schedule a nutrition consultation, click here or call 972.560.2655.

Article provided by Elana (Zimelman) Paddock, RDN, LD, CDE, Cooper Clinic Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator