How To Navigate a Restaurant Menu To Stay Healthy When Eating Out With Friends

Eating out while following a strict nutrition protocol may seem daunting.  You obviously want to hangout with your friends and have a good time but you don't want to "fall off the wagon."  

I don't know about you but when I used to eat out I had this notion that I HAD to make poor choices and because of that, I would just splurge and almost go out of my way to make sure I ate the most unhealthy options I could.  Not skipping the alcohol and desserts in the process.

Why?  Because I can start again on Monday, right?

Below are some tips to get you eating healthy when dining out with your friends.

Photo from :  FFE Magazine

Photo from : FFE Magazine

Keywords to avoid:

A la mode - fancy name for topped with ice cream
Battered - coated in batter then typically deep-fried
Breaded - coated in breadcrumbs and deep-friend
Crispy - appealing word to frame “fried in oil”

Instead, opt for:


Below are 5 tips to help create better behavioral patterns when going out to eat with your friends.  

Tip #1 : Pre Game

Eat a smaller meal before going out.  This can help you control how much you eat.  Having already eaten when going to the restaurant, you are less likely to order a full meal.  Maybe instead you snack on an appetizer option while others enjoy their mound of a meal.  

One of my friends is a master of this.  Every time he goes out, it is rare that he doesn't have a Quest protein bar on him.  You know who you are!

Tip #2 : Half Now / Half Later

When ordering, ask for half of it now and half of it in a to-go box.  This is a clever way to control your cravings.  It is quite easy for you to tell yourself to only eat half of what is given to you right off the bat but then you notice something...  All of your food is gone and you have a full, bloated belly and you are most likely ready for a nap.  

Tip #3 : More Is Better

Wait, what?  Don’t you mean portion control?

What I mean by “more is better” is that the more variety the restaurant has, the better off you are.  The more choices, the more of a chance that they're healthy, nutritious foods to choose from.  I don’t know about you but I’ve always been someone who likes to have many choices. 

Tip #4 : Tailor your meal

Simply asking for substitutions can make an unhealthy meal a lot healthier.  A simple example is to opt for sweet potatoes instead of regular, baked potatoes.  Ask for lower calorie dressings for you salad.  I opt for an olive oil dressing!  Also, feel free to ask about any of the dishes before ordering them.  Ask what they are made with and ask if there are any common substitutions.  

Tip #5 : Build relationships

Eat slowly and enjoy a conversation with your friends.  This little tip is the one that you can try out without changing what you actually eat.  I’m not saying to grab a 1 pound burger and a mountain of fries when you go out, but you don’t have to mix things up too much.  Eating slowly will give your body enough time to release a hormone called leptin, which is the satiety hormone.  This is good for your wallet as well because you often get two meals out of what was supposed to be one and you get to have wonderful conversations with your company.

Examples of what you should eat at different types of restaurants.  This is not an exhaustive list, just a few recommendations.

Mexican Restaurant

Don’t drink the ritual juice!  Don’t be tempted to chow down on several bowls of chips before your food is ready.  There is a reason why they are free.  They don’t provide any nutritional benefits.  Maybe try to ingrain a pattern of getting a margarita every other visit to a Mexican restaurant if you drink.  

Best choices:  Chicken fajitas, bean burritos, a grilled chicken dish with peppers and onions, or a soft taco. You may also be able to order brown rice, whole-wheat tortillas or a side of marinated vegetables.

Photo from :  Rachel Cooks  - Grilled Chicken dish with Peppers and Onions

Photo from : Rachel Cooks - Grilled Chicken dish with Peppers and Onions

Chinese Restaurant

Egg roll, crab rangoon or no appetizers?  Just say no to these appetizer examples.  A lot of appetizers at Chinese restaurants are deep fried.  Go ahead a skip the fortune cookie as well.  Although it might be seen as “healthy” because it’s not very high in calories (about 30 kcal), it’s definitely not nutritious. 

Best choices:  Hot & Sour Soup or Wonton Soup, The Buddha's Delight, Chicken with Broccoli, or Moo Goo Gai Pan.  

Photo from : Unknown - The Buddah's Delight

Photo from : Unknown - The Buddah's Delight

Italian Restaurant

Firstly, skip out on the breadsticks and order a salad to eat while you wait.  Heck, even order a glass of wine!

Pick your fuel source.  What I mean by this is do you want the majority of your meal to be carbs or fats?  

#1 Fettuccine Chicken Alfredo - Pasta with chicken in a white sauce (combination of high fat creams and cheeses)


#2 Your favorite pasta with marinara and meatballs

The pasta from both options is a carbohydrate source but the first option provides additional fats whereas the second option doesn’t.

Don’t go celebrating yet.  I still wouldn’t say that the pasta with marinara and meatballs is the most healthy dish.  The tip above is just a consideration.

Best choices:  Chicken Paillard, Brodetto di Pesce, Roasted Rabbit, Chicken a la Diavola or Grilled Calamari.

Photo from :  Impeccable Taste  - Chicken Paillard

Photo from : Impeccable Taste - Chicken Paillard

American Restaurant

This one is pretty cut and dry.  Opt for no bread and stay away from fried food.

Best choices:  Burgers without buns, sweet potato fries, lettuce wraps, and grilled chicken

Photo from :  With Style & Grace  - Burger w/ Lettuce Wrap

Photo from : With Style & Grace - Burger w/ Lettuce Wrap

Take Aways

After reading this, you have some keywords to watch out for, five tips to consider before going out and now have a list of healthy, nutritious options to choose from when you do go out.  

Now text some friends and go out and select a nutritious meal!