How to Navigate a Menu When Dining Out


Weve all been there; smack in the midst of a meal out on the town you’re suddenly slammed with an incredibly challenging, and quite unhealthy menu. While dining out can be fun, convenient, and necessary at times, it can also pose a challenge to your health and do damage to your waist. These days many of us dine out several times a week: entertaining clients over five course meals and cocktails, as well as celebrating birthdays, promotions, and other engagements, which can easily lead to a food coma and a dining-out overdose of unhealthy fare by the weekend. Whether youre at a dive diner or a French bistro, you can easily tweak the menu items to create a healthy dish for yourself.

Your main goals should be to choose healthy nutrient-rich foods you enjoy while keeping a close eye on your caloric intake. Its also important to factor in the sodium, sugar, fat, and carbohydrates of each dish. If youre faced with a hard-to-navigate menu that doesnt pose any healthy options, take a deep breath and order the healthiest dish you can spot and ask for a cup of broth-based soup or a side of steamed vegetables that won’t add on extra calories to fill you up before your main course.

It is possible to eat healthy while dining out and there is no need to sacrifice taste or enjoyment. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind the next time youre faced with a difficult menu. No need to stress — simply opt for the healthiest fare and dont sweat it; enjoy your company and make up for it the next day by eating a home-cooked, healthy meal.

1. Always choose whole grain breads, pastas, and grains in lieu of white bread, pasta, or pastries.

2. Select grilled, poached, steamed, or stir-fried items instead of deep fried fare.

3. Substitute a side of extra vegetables, brown rice, or a baked sweet potato instead of white potatoes and rice.

4. Instead of spreading butter atop your table bread and crackers, ask your waiter for a small dish of olive oil; add a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper at the table, and enjoy a heart-healthy appetizer.

5. Watch the condiments; dressings can turn any dish into a calorie-bomb in seconds. Ask for light vinaigrette on the side or opt out of dressing completely and choose a healthy fat such as mashed avocado with balsamic vinegar instead to mix up your own healthy dressing.

6. Start your meal off with a bowl of fruit, broth-based soup, or a green salad before you dig into your main course.

7. Dont drink your calories. A glass of soda is not only full of sugar, but packs a whopping dose of unnecessary calories as well. Moreover, limit your alcohol intake, which can in turn increase your appetite and cause you to turn to unhealthy fare.

8. Beans are a great source of fiber and protein, so ask your waiter to toss beans into your omelet, salad, or stir-fry for an extra boost without the fat.

9. Reap the healthy fats in each dish by adding avocado, nuts, and seeds to your dish. Ask your waiter to add slivered almonds to your oatmeal, a spread of nut butter on your whole grain toast, sliced avocado atop your garden salad, or a handful of pumpkin seeds into your chicken stir-fry.

Amie Valpone, HHP, AADP, is a culinary nutritionist and author of The Healthy Apple,

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