8 Tips to Eat Healthy When Eating Out


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8 Tips for Eating Healthy When Eating Out

If you’ve prioritized a healthy, real-food approach to eating, going out to a restaurant can seem like a daunting experience. Instead of enjoying the fact that you’ll have no dirty dishes in the evening (hallelujah!), you fret over food safety, food quality, excess calories, weight gain, over-indulging and how you’ll feel the next day. 

But don’t stomp on your own happy parade just yet. Because really, you needn’t worry!

As someone with significant dietary restrictions, I’ve learned that eating out can be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Even during what could possibly be the most difficult restaurant outing ever – a blind date!

So let me be the light at the end of your tunnel. Not only is it possible, it’s also quite easy to eat out and maintain your health. In fact, eating out can give your wellness an added boost. In addition to food, social interaction and deep belly laughs (which are commonly found in social settings) are key ingredients for living a vibrant, healthy life. 

So go on already! Eat, drink and be merry…just follow these eight tips to eat healthy when eating out:

1. Check out the menu online

Thankfully, most restaurants now post their menus online. Spending 10 minutes perusing the menu before you leave can help you decide if the restaurant is one you’ll want to eat at, and if so, what healthy options you’ll have. It’s always best to not be caught off guard or feel pressured to make a quick meal decision from an impatient waiter. 

2. Eat a small, healthy snack before you leave

I know this may seem counter-intuitive, but trust me, you won’t spoil your dinner. Arriving ravenously hungry is never ideal – that’s when “oops’s” happen and your eyes become too big for your stomach. A small apple, banana or handful of nuts will do the trick.

3. Ask them to hold the bread basket

Even if you’re not 100% gluten-free, the bread basket will do you no favors. It’s like a shot of carbs and sugar straight into your bloodstream. So do yourself a favor and ask them to hold the temptation before it ever reaches the table.

4. Order fresh, simple…and naked

Look for salads, vegetables, fresh ingredients and simple preparation. Usually the more “extravagant” a meal is, the more hidden ingredients, like gluten, dairy, sugar and industrial seed oils. When I first learned to eat healthy, I received this advice – “eat your food naked.” Of course, that advice was referring to the food and not my lack of attire! To this day, it’s still sound advice. Opt for steamed instead of sautéed or grilled instead of breaded. Healthy, delicious food doesn’t need a lot of adornment.

5. Inquire about sauces and dressings

This is where an otherwise healthy meal can flop to the dark-side. Sauces are commonly thickened with flour, butter and sugar, while dressings can be built on a foundation of gut-irritating oils like canola, soy or corn (not to mention chemicals, additives and colorings). Instead, ask for olive oil and vinegar on the side (for salads) and your meal to be served without the sauce. When in doubt, remember tip #4 – naked food is always best.

6. Be polite and substitute

Truth be told, almost everything is customizable at a restaurant. That is, a restaurant with a true chef and not a place where your food is already half-assembled and just warmed up. But please use your manners. If you’re adding a level of complexity to the meal, it might help to explain why (food allergy, sensitivity, etc). Then, thank the waiter in advance for their help to make your food safe. Smiles and politeness go an enormously long way.

7. Keep an eye on your beverages

One glass of wine is fine. One bottle – for one person – not so much. And wine is tricky because waiters can refill without you knowing. So err on the side of safety and order individually by the glass. Cocktails, quite frankly, are best avoided. Those fruity, tropical names are pseudonyms for sugar! If you prefer hard liquor, order it on the rocks or with soda water (not tonic water – which again, is sugar). And if you order a drink, always order a glass of water with it. Your liver will thank you. 

8. Approach the evening from a place of calm and ease

Remember that eating out is supposed to be fun! Don’t stress about perfection – if you’ve followed the previous seven tips, you’ve done your best. If a mistake happens, fix it and roll on. Many times, your mental approach to the evening can be more impactful than the food itself – so actively choose a state of calm and ease. Smiles, laughter and good times are there for the taking!

What tips do you have to eat healthy while eating out? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

PS – If you’re traveling on a paleo diet, I have more tips in this post.

About the author

Lisa Bryan

Lisa is a bestselling cookbook author, recipe developer, and YouTuber (with over 2.5 million subscribers) living in sunny Southern California. She started Downshiftology in 2014, and is passionate about making healthy food with fresh, simple and seasonal ingredients.

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  1. I’ve been looking for restaurants with gluten-free options so I can be more healthy. I appreciate that you mention skipping the bread basket to save on carbs and sugar. I’ll keep this in mind the next time I go out to eat.