How to choose the healthiest options on the menu


Tips to take the mystery out of eating healthy while eating out

It can be a real challenge to stay healthy while eating out!  In today’s fast paced society eating out is more common.  Here are some tips I often give my patients.

Choosing a meal from a restaurant menu can be especially difficult because there is usually no nutritional information.  But there are clues to look for in the meal’s description.

Avoid these key words:

  • For sauces: Fried, buttery, breaded, pan-fried, creamed, scalloped, a la mode.
  • For meats:  Anything fried, ground beef, meatloaf, corned beef, short ribs, prime rib, sausage, bacon, spareribs, ground pork, veal cutlet.

Instead, choose meals described with these key words:

  • Baked, steamed, stewed, broiled, roasted
  • For sauces: Ketchup, mustard, bbq sauce, oil based dressings, marinara, salsa
  • For meats: Chicken without the skin, fish, pork loin or chops, ground round sirloin, flank steak, tenderloin, lamb chop, turkey, egg whites.

When you’re eating in a restaurant, a few good habits will help you control your calorie intake:

  • Order dressings and sauces on the side and use only what you need.
  • Eat the lowest calorie item first.
  • Split a meal with a friend.
  • Be the first person to order!
  • Drink water!
  • Eat on the bread plate.
  • Put half your food in the to-go box.
  • Always order the half portion if there is the option.
  • If it comes with fries ask if you can have a side salad or a baked potato instead.
  • Check the restaurants website ahead of time.  Not only will this give you more time to assess the menu choices, but sometimes nutritional information is posted.  More and more fast food restaurants are now posting fat and calorie content on their websites.

Now that you’re armed with the info you need to make healthier meal choices in your favorite restaurant, here’s a quick challenge for you.  If you’re at McDonald’s, which is the healthier option:

Option 1:  Premium grilled chicken classic sandwich, small fries and a large diet soda


Option 2:  Premium crispy chicken classic sandwich, large fries and a large regular soda.

If you chose option 1, you would be correct.  The word “crispy” indicates the item is fried, which is a key word you should avoid.

Ok, that was easy.  So say you’re at Olive Garden.  Which is the healthier option?

Option 1:  Garden fresh salad and herb grilled salmon (salmon filet brushed with Italian herbs, extra-virgin olive oil), served with seasoned broccoli.


Option 2:  Breadstick with garlic butter spread and the Tour of Italy (homemade lasagna, lightly breaded chicken Parmesan and creamy fettuccine Alfredo sauce).

Did you notice the key words?  Breaded and creamy are big giveaways.  Option 1 is the healthier choice.

Happy eating!


Note: Join Annie, Botsford Hospital registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, for a fun and informative walk in the park.  She’ll talk about nutrition for healthy living and weight management.  You can even bring your recipes and ask her questions!  Get event details here.

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