Weight Management

When Eating Out, Make Better Choices

How often do you eat out? Once a day? Once a week? Rarely? Almost every meal? People who eat out more often, particularly at fast food restaurants, are more likely to be overweight or obese. However, you can still manage your body weight when eating out by making better choices.


To eat out without blowing your calorie budget, there are three things to think about:

  1. WHAT you are eating and drinking,
  2. HOW MUCH you are eating and drinking, and
  3. HOW your meal is prepared.

To learn how to manage each of these - click on "Get Started."

Get Started                             Overcome Stumbling Blocks


Get Started making better choices when eating out:

  • What are you eating and drinking?
    • Check posted calorie amounts, and choose lower calorie menu options. Many restaurants post calories on menus, in pamphlets, or on their websites. Compare food and beverage options and think about how they fit within your daily calorie limit. For example, if your daily calorie limit is 1600 calories, think twice before ordering a meal with 1300 calories. Also, don't forget about the calories from drinks, dressings, dips, appetizers, and desserts. They all count!
    • Choose dishes that include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean protein foods. Focusing on smart food choices from each of the 5 food groups can help you stay on track at restaurants.
    • Think about what you drink. Ask for water or order fat-free or low-fat milk, unsweetened tea, or other drinks without added sugars. If you choose to drink alcoholic beverages, select options with fewer calories. For example, a frozen pina colada or margarita can have over 400 calories! You can check the calorie content of other beverages by going to Food-A-Pedia.
    • Watch out for desserts. Some restaurants are serving small portions of desserts, which can help decrease calorie intake. However, as a good rule, eat dessert less often.
  • How much are you eating and drinking?
    • Avoid oversized portions.  A major challenge for many people when they eat out is being served large portions. Most people eat and drink more when served larger portions. To overcome this challenge, choose a smaller size option, share your meal, or take home half of your meal. For example, hamburgers can range from as few as 250 calories to 800 calories or more. Choose a smaller option with fewer calories.
    • To help you eat less when eating out, order from the menu instead of heading for the all-you-can-eat buffet. Many people overeat at buffets. Getting a plate of food, instead of unlimited access to food, may help you eat less. Don't forget that you don't have to clean your plate!
  • How is your meal prepared?
    • Order steamed, grilled, or broiled dishes instead of those that are fried or sauteéd. Avoid choosing foods with the following words: creamy, breaded, battered, or buttered. These words indicate that the food is higher in calories.
    • Ask for dressings, sauces, and syrups "on the side" so you can add only as much as you want. These sides are often high in calories – so don't eat much of them.


Stumbling Blocks:

Concerned about making better choices when eating out? Here are some common "stumbling blocks" and ideas to help you overcome these barriers:

"I feel that I have to eat everything on my plate since it is there in front of me or else I feel like I'm wasting food."

To control how much you eat, ask for a take home box with your order, and box half of the food up as soon as it arrives.  This way you know that you will have saved on calories and also have a delicious lunch for the following day.

"I like to have a cocktail with dinner."

Moderate alcohol consumption can be a part of a healthy diet. Limit alcohol to no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. Don't forget that some drinks provide a lot of calories. Many alcoholic beverages range from 100 to 400 calories each.

"I have heard that salads can be worse for you than a big meal!"

Salads can be high in calories if they have toppings like fried chicken, loads of cheese, and creamy dressing. To start a meal, choose a salad that is all vegetables, and ask for dressing on the side. For a main dish salad, choose one with topped with grilled or baked chicken, seafood, or lean beef.

"It's a tradition now to get dessert after our meals when we eat out."

Ask your friends or family to support your efforts to eat less by understanding that you won't be ordering dessert. While they eat dessert, have a cup of tea or coffee. Have one bite of someone's dessert if they offer to share.  If fruit is available as a dessert option, order it without the whipped topping or sauce.