Choosing nutritious foods at most restaurants feels like a daunting task. Especially when menus have mouth-watering descriptions or tempting photos -- and you're hungry. If you don't dine out too often, you might be able to splurge on foods that taste good but aren't so good for you. But if you eat at restaurants frequently, you need to know how to find the healthiest foods.
Most restaurants have at least a few healthy options, and these may be noted on the menu. The restaurant may also keep separate menus depending upon what diet is trendy. For example, you may find low-fat, gluten-free, or low-carb options are available.
You still have to examine the selections. Simply being low or free from something doesn't guarantee the special diet fare is any healthier than the regular menu items.
I've been to lots of restaurants. Here are my tips for finding the healthier foods on the menu.
Look for the healthiest entree items:
- Fish or seafood such as crab, clams or scallops
- Lean meat, like a filet mignon
- Poultry, like chicken or turkey
- Legumes such as beans or lentils
- Vegetarian Entrees
Then make sure the cooking method is good. You don't want to add too many calories with excess fat or pile on the sodium:
Cooking methods to avoid:
- Deep fried
- Au gratin
- Batter fried
Speaking of sodium, these foods are very high in sodium:
- Pickled anything
- Soy sauce
- Cocktail sauce
- Teriyaki sauce
- Soups or broth
Ask to have your meal prepared without these items, or have them served on the side. Choose a salad instead of the soup.
Are all salads good? A lot of them are, especially if they feature lots of greens, vegetables and fruits, but you can still get too much fat and calories when they're laden with heavy creamy dressings and cheese. Order a light vinaigrette instead, or use lemon or lime juice. Stay away from taco salads or salads topped with chicken strips because they're high in fat, calories and sodium.
If you want dessert, choose something that features fresh fruit or berries instead of high calorie sweets like pies, cakes or ice cream treats.
No healthy-looking items on the menu? Don't be afraid to ask your server for help. Usually you can leave out many of the ingredients you don't want or order substitutes. You may be able to purchase a half portion of your meal, or if you have a refrigerator and microwave available, you can take part of your meal to go.
American Heart Association. "Tips for Eating Out." Accessed June 22, 2012. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/DiningOut/Tips-by-Cuisine_UCM_308333_Article.jsp.