Healthy Dining Out

by Traci Kaufman, R.D.


Dining Out  
Today we're eating more meals than ever away from home. Restaurant dining today plays an important role in our physical and emotional well being. The following information is for anyone who eats away from home whether or not you're on a diet. You can dine out healthy if you know how. Dining Out presents a challenge to many of us but it doesn't have to be an overwhelming one. The key to restaurant dining is knowing how to make appropriate choices.

The following tips can help you turn a potentially high-fat meal into a lower fat meal.


Tips for Dining Out

  • The major rule for ordering from a menu is to keep it simple! Always ask that items be prepared the way you want them.
  • Find out how meals are prepared and what ingredients are used.
  • Find out if the food is served with a sauce
  • Ask to have your entree prepared without added fat. Entrees are often basted with large amounts of fat.
  • Ask to have chicken prepared without the skin
  • Request that lemon juice, wine or only a small amount of fat be used and that no salt be added (if on a low salt diet).
  • If you wish to cut down on portion sizes, choose appetizers as the main course, order a la carte, share food with a companion or cut large portions in half and take the remainder home for another meal.
  • Request that stir-fried entrees be prepared with very little oil.
  • Choose whole grain breads and go easy on or avoid oil, butter and mayonnaise.
  • Beware of the traditional restaurant "dieters platter" (ground beef patty, cottage cheese, and a peach half). A diet like this will increase your saturated fat intake.
  • Watch out for menu selections termed "Light fare" or "light." "Light" may or may not mean lower in fat and calories.
  • Ask yourself, "Do I really need dessert?"

Lighter Choices

Higher Fat Choices


Fruit or vegetable juices

Clear broth, consommé

Raw vegetables dipped in salsa or low-fat dressing

Fresh fruit

Vegetable or garden salads with reduced fat dressings, lemon juice, or wine vinegar

Steamed seafood


Seafood cocktail

Salads with high fat or mayonnaise-based salad dressings

Foods with rich sauces

Dips and batter-fried foods

Tortilla chips

Buffalo Wings

Stuffed Potato skins


Broth or tomato-based soups

Lentil, bean and split pea soups


Cream soups


Items which are broiled, grilled, roasted, baked, poached, steamed or boiled without added butter or sauces

Trimming away as much fat and skin as possible

Order pizza with half the cheese and only vegetable toppings.

Eggs soft or hard cooked, or poached

Dishes flavored with herbs and spices

Substitute non-fat or low-fat yogurt for sour cream

Choose vegetable toppings for sandwiches

Add picante sauce, salsa, or Tabasco sauce to your foods

Eat fish with a low-fat tartar sauce or cocktail sauce.

Keep deli sandwiches lean by piling on fat-free fillers such as lettuce, tomato, sprouts (alfalfa or broccoli), cucumbers, pickles, and shredded carrots

Choose lean deli meats such as turkey or ham

Choose low fat condiments like mustard, ketchup, Worcestershire or chili sauces


Items which are fried, breaded, creamed, scalloped, or au gratin

Foods prepared with rich sauces, gravies, or dressings {If that's not an option, ask for gravies, sour cream, sauces, and other toppings to be served on the side and use sparingly}

Mayonnaise, oil, and cheese on sandwiches

Tuna and egg salad sandwiches.

Higher fat cold cuts, such as bologna or salami

Fried or scrambled eggs

Fried, mashed, creamed, marinated, au gratin, or buttered vegetables

Prepared salads that contain mayonnaise, salad dressing or oil, such as macaroni salad, potato salad, creamy coleslaw, tuna and chicken salad

Caesar Salads


Items which are fresh, boiled, baked, or steamed plain

Vegetables seasoned with lemon, herbs or spices

Asking for topping or sauce to be served on the side

Beans salads

House salads


All others


Breads sliced in average thickness, hard or soft rolls, plain muffins, biscuits, or crackers

Asking that the bread basket be removed from the table

Choose corn tortillas


Flour tortillas

Croissants, biscuits, cornbread, muffins (i.e., bran, corn, blueberry)

Sweetened or frosted breads, sweet rolls, coffee cake, pastries


Fresh fruit

Plain ice cream or frozen yogurts

Sponge or angel food cake


Sherbet or sorbet

Italian ice

Share the dessert with a friend


Pies, pastries, frosted cakes


Fast Foods

Plain smaller sandwiches and hold the chips or fries

Garden salads with reduced-fat or calorie dressings.

Charbroiled or roasted sandwiches

Fast Foods

Burgers with "the works"; chicken and fish sandwiches which are breaded and fried

Flavored milk, cocoa, milk shakes

Salads with non-vegetable ingredients and high-fat dressings

Breakfast sandwiches, breakfast meats, French toast, fried potatoes and eggs


Water, coffee, tea, milk (ask for nonfat), buttermilk, unsweetened fruit juices, non-calorie soft drinks

Dry wine, white wine spritzer, light beer, carbonated or mineral water with lemon or lime, sugar-free mixers

Espresso drinks


Flavored milk, cocoa, milkshakes

Hard liquor


Low Fat Salad Toppers

Alfalfa sprouts; avocado; green, black, garbanzo, and kidney beans, broccoli, shredded cabbage; carrots; cauliflower; chives; cucumbers; dried fruit; mushrooms; almonds; pecans; pignoli, walnuts; onion; oranges; mandarin sections; sweet or hot peppers; sunflower, poppy, and sesame seeds; tomatoes; celery

Words that signal high fat include:
"Buttered", "in butter sauce" or "buttery"
"Sautéed", "fried", "pan-fried", "crispy", "braised"
"Creamed", "in cream sauce", or "creamy",
"Rich", "escalloped", "breaded"
"With gravy", "in it's own gravy"
"Au gratin", "parmesan", "in cheese sauce"
"Marinated", "stewed", "basted"
"Casserole", "prime", "hash", "pot pie"

Phrases that signal low fat preparation include:
"in its own juice", "garden fresh", "tomato juice",
"dry broiled", "smoked", "pickled", "in cocktail sauce", "in broth

Words that signal high sodium include:
"Smoked", "barbecued"
"Pickled", "broth",
"Soy sauce", "teriyaki"
"Creole sauce", "marinated"
"Cocktail sauce", "tomato base"
"Parmesan", "mustard sauce"


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Traci Kaufman, Registered Dietitian, received her bachelor's degree in dietetics and nutrition from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has worked as a clinical nutritionist at UCI Medical Center-Irvine in Orange California, and served as team nutritionist for the Los Angeles Rams. Traci is an active member of the American Dietetic Association and two Dietetic Practice Groups: Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutritionist (SCAN), and Dietitians in General Clinical Practice. Traci resides in Southern California.


This page created 1999

This page modified October 2006

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