A Dietitian’s Guide To Eating Out At Restaurants

Did you know 56% of families report going out to eat 2-3 per week? It’s also reported that 36.3% of children consume fast food on a given day. Insert mind blown emoji!  I know that busy life of running my kids to all of their sports and activities every night of the week all too well so I understand how it’s easy to skip cooking at home and choosing to drive through somewhere. Some nights you just feel like there is no time to cook.


While there are many not-so-great food options at restaurants, there are ways to choose nutritious foods that won’t send you overboard on the calories. Here are my top tips for sticking to your nutrition goals while going out to eat.


Make a plan

Decide where you will eat ahead of time and check the menu. Being prepared is key whether you’re going out to a restaurant or swinging past a drive-thru! Peruse the menu and decide what you will order before you get to the restaurant. Be sure to choose foods that align with your needs and also foods you like of course!


Some things to keep in mind when choosing your foods: 

  1. Lean protein (chicken, fish, turkey, beans, tofu,)
  2. Caloric content – is it appropriate for your needs?
  3. Vitamins and minerals – are you choosing colorful, nutrient-rich items?
  4. Foods you like! This is a given, but make sure to enjoy the food you choose.


Portion Sizes

Restaurants are notorious for serving extra large portions. It seems that we always think the more the food costs, the more food we should get and if we pay for it, we should eat it. I want you to think about that logic. Does it actually make sense? You’ll pay more money and eat the food that you don’t need to gain the weight you don’t want to gain?


Here’s my favorite tip for those extra large portions: When you receive your meal, ask for a to-go box, place half of your entree in the box, and eat the remainder! If you are still hungry after finishing what’s on your plate, you can always pull some out of your to-go box but I bet you will be surprised how full you feel after only eating half! 


Pick a lean protein and a serving of vegetables. 

It’s hard to overeat if you follow this suggestion. My go-to protein is a chicken breast or a lean steak. Maybe yours is fish or a tofu dish. Protein is important to include with your meal because it helps fill you up and keep you full longer.


Adding a vegetable side adds fiber and bulk for very few calories. Do you love the bread basket? Oh my word, me too. The bread is the best part in my opinion! Grab a slice of bread or a roll and enjoy! Bread isn’t bad by any means, but when are you typically served the bread basket? While you’re sitting and waiting for you food and starving! You start eating it and before you know it, you’re asking for a second bread basket and you just ate about 1000 calories in bread. Save the rolls until your meal or ask for a vegetable appetizer.


Be mindful of sugary drinks and desserts.

Drinks like soda, sweet tea, or mixed drinks like margaritas come packed with sugar and calories. Try sugar-free or lower sugar options instead to save you calories and unnecessary added sugar.


Are you a dessert person? Me too! If you decide to order dessert, pick one you love and watch the portion size. Share with a friend or box up the rest to enjoy later! My personal rule with dessert is if it’s something I love then I’m going to order it and enjoy. If it’s not my favorite, I’ll pass!


What are my go-to restaurants?

We like to eat locally as much as we can, but here are some of my go-to’s at some popular restaurants!



I love to get an order of 3 chicken strips with buffalo dipping sauce and a side of kale crunch salad. This adds up to 455 calories, 25.5 grams of fat (22 grams coming from heart-healthy fats), 25 grams of carbohydrates, and 32 grams of protein. 



I usually order the Pick 2 and choose the half turkey sandwich on wheat with ½ green goddess salad. This totals up to about 500 calories, 24 grams of fat (18.5 grams heart healthy), 39 grams of carbohydrate, and 36 grams of protein. 


Jimmy John’s

The Little John Turkey Tom is my go-to. It has just 240 calories, 10 grams of fat, 24 grams of carbohydrate, and 12 grams of protein. If you want more protein, ask for double the meat! If you’re grabbing this to bring it home, you can throw veggies and hummus with it or a serving of fruit. 


Local Restaurants

Most of the time, I choose my protein source first and typically it’s chicken or a lean steak. From there I add a side of vegetables and for my carb source I typically do a baked potato or a roll/slice of bread. There’s a restaurant in my city called Sophia’s that has the most delicious chicken mudega dish and it is not low calorie at all but it is my favorite! I usually eat ½ the serving and place the other half in a to-go box to enjoy for lunch the next day. 


Things to Remember

Going out to eat can be much more challenging to keep your calories on track. Think outside of your usual orders to see if there are ways to make your choices healthier. 


  1. Order the kids meal for a more proper serving size. 
  2. Choose a vegetable for your side rather than fries. 
  3. Make sure you have a good protein source like beans, tofu, or lean meat.

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