A Guide to Lower-Calorie Dining Out Options


It’s easy to splurge with extra calories while celebrating a special occasion at your favorite restaurant. But on a day-to-day basis, it’s important to make healthy choices, especially if you opt to dine out more than you dine in.

However, it can be just as easy to make healthy choices as you explore new restaurants and different types of cuisine without sacrificing taste. All you have to do is plan ahead. Most restaurants post their menus online, so it’s easy to check out what healthy options are available in advance. Because they’re prepared in less fat, search for menu items that are baked, grilled, broiled, poached, or steamed.

When it comes to choosing an appetizer, opt for a soup or salad. Be mindful of your dressing choice, though — dressings (and other sauces) can turn a healthy salad into a calorie overload. Ask for vinaigrette rather than a cream-based dressing and have it come on the side. This way, you can control how much you’re eating. Or, if you’re dining with a group, order an appetizer to share and watch your portions.

Go for a balance by finding meals that contain lean proteins, vegetables, and whole grains. And don’t be afraid to ask your server how a meal is prepared. If it’s not prepared to your liking, speak up and request that substitutions be made. Ask for meat, fish, and vegetables to be prepared without butter or oil. Trust us — quickly asking that your chicken be grilled and not fried beats waking up at the crack of dawn the next morning to squeeze in a workout before your day begins.

It’s okay to crave something sweet at the end of your meal. In lieu of a calorie-packed pastry or ice cream, choose sorbet topped with fresh berries or fruit. And if it’s a special occasion, share a treat with your dining partner. Half the dessert = half the calories.

Just because we’re trying to stay healthy doesn’t mean we don’t love experimenting with new types of foods. From French to Indian, here are a few painless ways to enjoy your favorite foods and try new ones, all while cutting calories.

1. American
Lean towards healthier cuts of meat (think filet, tenderloin, or flank steaks) and eliminate those that are high in fat, like ribeye, porterhouse, and T-bone. Stay away from dishes with a lot of cheese and mayonnaise, and don’t be afraid to substitute fries for a baked potato.

2. Chinese
Steamed options are always better than those that are fried. Substitute steamed dumplings for egg rolls to shave off calories. We also recommend cutting the fried rice from your meal.

3. French
Butter, butter, and more butter are the secrets to French cooking. Avoid Hollandaise, Mornay, Bechamel or Bearnaise sauces, and pick one that is wine-based instead, such as a Bordelaise. Pass on the creamy au gratin dishes by asking for lightly sauteed vegetables.

4. Indian
Luckily, Indian cuisine tends to use tons of spices, so there’s no need to sacrifice taste by ordering healthier options. Curries with a vegetable or dal base are better than those made with coconut milk or cream. Enjoy with chapati or naan instead of breads that are fried and stuffed.

5. Italian
There’s no need to remove pasta entirely from your diet, but choose carefully. Cheese or meat-filled pastas can be replaced with pasta primavera, which is loaded with garden vegetables. Cream sauces are heavy, so ask for tomato-based sauces — they have fewer calories and will add to your vegetable count for the day.

6. Japanese
Japanese cooking stresses that rice and vegetables are prepared lightly with little fat or oil. Still, choose grilled shrimp or vegetable sushi instead of shrimp tempura, and as always, go for grilled meats that aren’t heavily marinated in high-sodium sauces.

7. Mexican
Trim excess calories and enjoy a Mexican fiesta by cutting out the sour cream. After all, the bold flavors of fresh pico de gallo, cilantro, and jalapeno peppers are just as savory without it. Trade the quesadilla for a fajita, and if you’re feeling especially disciplined, tell your server to keep the tortilla chips away from the table.


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