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Dining Out Without Compromising Your Fitness and Diet Goals

When you’ve got fitness or weight loss goals set in your sights, every decision you make throughout the day matters. How many steps you take, how much water you choose to drink and how many veggies you put on each plate, all help you move closer to – or further away from – your ultimate goals.

One such decision that comes into play is dining out. No matter if you’re headed out to happy hour with coworkers, to a dinner party with friends, or to a big family meal, it’s important to know how to feel comfortable in making healthy decisions that don’t compromise your diet goals.

There are two important ways to look at dining out when you’ve got diet, health or fitness goals to achieve. The first is how to make good decisions that help you stay on top of your nutrition and the second is how to make trade-offs so that you still enjoy those nights out. In this article, we’ll talk a little more about both of those viewpoints.

Making Good Decisions While Dining Out

There are several things you can do to prepare yourself for a night out. If you’re headed to a specific restaurant, you can look up their menu beforehand and give yourself an idea of the choices you’ll have to make. Going into the restaurant with a good idea of what you’ll order plus any changes you need to ask for will make the process a lot less stressful.

A complete meal would be one with a lean protein, at least two vegetables and a healthy fat option. Once you’re at the restaurant, here are a few tips to make your meal a little lighter/healthier:

–              Ask for sauce on the side;

–              Skip anything fried;

–              Ask for no added salt;

–              Stick with a grilled, lean protein option;

–              Swap pasta or rice for a side of vegetables;

–              Ask for a lettuce wrap instead of bun or bread.

Scan the Menu

Look for key words on the menu that are giveaways for what to avoid.  Here are some examples of the most common culprits:

  • pan-fried
  • crispy
  • dipped
  • scalloped
  • breaded
  • cream
  • alfredo

Dishes with these words tend to have a lot of hidden fat and salt.

unhealthy restaurant foods

Instead, look for menu items with words from the following list:

  • grilled
  • steamed
  • baked
  • roasted                                                               healthy food choices at a restaurant
  • braised
  • broiled
  • seared

Ask about meal preparation

Truth: Chefs are trained to use lots of butter and salt to heighten flavors.  Duh, right?  It tastes good. They do this because, if you add butter or salt on most anything, it tastes better which makes the customer happy which means more business in the future.  They’re not there for your health.  They’re there to feed you tasty food.

If you’re concerned about the butter or salt in your food, don’t be afraid to ask your server how the food is prepared. If you find out what you want is actually loaded with oil or butter, either ask for it to be prepared differently or choose something else.

How to eat healthy at a party

If it’s a party or dinner where you aren’t sure what will be served, do your best to make sure your nutrition during the day is the best it can be. Fill up on the good stuff early on so that the unknown at dinner doesn’t seem so scary.


Remember to stay adequately hydrated throughout the day and try to drink a full glass of water before heading out. Eat a light snack before you leave home.  I like a Built Bar.  It’s the perfect light snack with the appropriate nutrients I need.  The cookie dough one is my FAVORITE!  Munching on a small apple, a handful of almonds or some carrot sticks will help you avoid the bread basket at the restaurant or the bowl of chips at your friend’s house, and it will also help you with portion sizes during the meal.

Making Trade-Offs so You Still Enjoy Your Meals

Food choice matters and so do calories when you’ve got diet goals to achieve, but that occasional night out isn’t going to make or break your progress. While it is important to do your best to make healthy choices while dining out, it is equally important to have a flexible attitude towards your meals.

Built Bar as a perfect light snack

Here are a few trade-offs you can make during the day so that you can let yourself off the hook a bit while dining out, If you’re constantly stressed about food choices or about eating out, chances are your quality of life is going to suffer because of it. Inflexibility leads to feelings of guilt or remorse when you, inevitably, make a less-than-healthy decision. It can also increase the chances of binge eating or yo-yo dieting, not to mention you probably won’t be able to fully enjoy the happy hour, dinner party, family dinner, etc if all you can do is focus on the food you can or cannot have.

–              Have a protein shake at lunch so that you’ve got some extra calories “in the bank” for dinner

–              Skip the fries, rice or pasta so you can enjoy a slice of dessert instead

–              Instead of a calorie-packed salad (you know the ones I’m talking about!), opt for steamed vegetables so that you can also have a small side of fries.

What To Order To Eat Healthy At Restaurants

How to Eat Healthy at Italian Restaurants

  • minestrone
  • pasta fagioli
  • house salad
  • caesar salad
  • fresh fish or seafood that is cooked in olive oil
  • choose red sauces, like cacciatore or marsala

How to Eat Healthy at Thai Restaurants

  • tom yum soup
  • curry with tofu, veggies, or chicken
  • fish with veggies
  • summer rolls
  • beef and broccoli
  • satay

How to Eat Healthy at Mexican Restaurants

  • ceviche
  • guacamole (without many tortilla chips)
  • black beans
  • grilled fish
  • fajitas (without many tortillas)
  • choose corn tortillas over flour tortillas
  • burrito bowl
  • taco salad (without the taco shell)

How to Eat Healthy at Japanese Restaurants

  • sushi and sashimi
  • edamame
  • miso soup
  • grilled seafood
  • ginger salad
  • teriyaki chicken or salmon (with sauce on the side)

How to Eat Healthy at Chinese Restaurants

  • beef and broccoli (or chicken and broccoli)
  • brown rice instead of white rice
  • mixed vegetables
  • moo goo gai pan
  • schezuan eggplant
  • kung pao chicken (not fried)
  • Buddha’s delight

How to enjoy Desert

Desserts are a fun part of eating out at restaurants and can be a huge bummer if you’re trying to eat healthy.  If you want to splurge on a dessert, you do have some options.

My favorite thing to do is to order one dessert for the table. That way, you don’t eat the entire dessert and feel totally awful.

Instead, you enjoy a few bites and satisfy your sweet tooth.  If you’d rather not share, another great idea is to ask your waiter for a simple dish of berries or a fruit sorbet.

healthy restaurant desert


At the end of the day, the choices you make day in and day out carry much more weight than the things you do once in a while – like having a night out. Use these tips to make healthy food-related decisions at a restaurant or party, but don’t forget to enjoy your choices as well, as both of those things are important not only for your continued progress but also for your psychological health.

Learning how to be flexible with food choices will help you make healthy eating a long-term commitment that you actually enjoy instead of a short-term “can’t wait until it’s over” diet.