Can eating out be healthy?


Over the past 20 years there has been a large amount of growth in the restaurant industry especially the fast food market. Now an estimated 66% of US adults are either overweight or obese! Think about that, more than half our country!

A McDonald’s hamburger has 270 calories where the big xtra with cheese has 810 calories. A meal of a quarter pounder with cheese, super size french fries and a super size coke comes to 1,550 calories which has enough energy to support the needs of an entire day for a lightly active woman. Fast food portions along with sit-down restaurants are serving large meals that can include bread with butter, a salad with dressing, sides of vegetables and potatoes, and free refills of sugar filled drinks all in one sitting. All of this while also having a high fat appetizer such as fried mozzarella sticks can come to over 2,000 calories in just this one meal. However, there are smarter choices you can make while eating out.

Most restaurants offer low fat menu items to choose from. Other fast food restaurants also offer smaller portions, sandwiches made with whole grain bread, grilled chicken or lean meats along with a side salad. Some tips to avoid while eating out are:

  • Avoid coffee drinks made with syrups, cream, whipping cream or whole milk; select skim milk
  • Avoid eating appetizers that are breaded, fried or filled with cheese or meat; ordering a healthy appetizer as an entree instead of a large meal is also an option
  • Share an entree with a friend, most servings are for 2 people or more
  • Order broth based soups instead of cream based soups
  • Order any meat dish grilled or boiled and avoid fried or breaded meat
  • Selecting lean meats is important when ordering a meat dish
  • Avoid dishes with cream sauces and a lot of cheese. A dish filled with vegetables and whole grains is an excellent choice
  • Order a salad with low-fat or nonfat dressing on the side. You will eat less dressing if it is ordered on the side.
  • Steamed vegetables on the side instead of potatoes or rice is another healthier option. If ordering potatoes, a baked potato is the best choice
  • Order beverages with few or no calories
  • Eat no more than half of what is served and take the rest home for another meal
  • Skip dessert or share one dessert with friends! ordering fresh fruit for dessert is another option!

An example of low fat foods to choose from when eating out are provided below. This example is a special form for diabetes but can also be helpful to those interested making more healthful food choices when eating out.

Appetizers: Minestrone soup, chicken soup with vegetables, raw celery and carrots with low fat or nonfat ran dressing

Salads: Tossed with mixed greens, lettuce, tomato, cucumber etc. Or a spinach salad with crab meat, raw vegetables and nonfat salad dressing

Breads: whole grain rolls, corn tortillas, whole wheat or pumpernickel bread

Entree: Baked halibut with thyme and fresh lemon, or grilled chicken skinless breast with tomato salsa

Fats: diet margarine, low fat salad dressing, low fat sour cream or yogurt

Desserts: Fresh fruit, fruit sorbet, fat free or low fat yogurt

Data obtained from: American Diabetes Association. 2007. Your guide to eating out.

Although we all believe when we go out we should eat as much as we want and enjoy ourselves, it’s important to keep in mind how much you have eaten throughout the day already and if you have met your nutrient needs. It’s important to not be too strict on yourself, but just be aware of what your healthier options are to choose from.


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