8 tips for eating healthy at restaurants


Who doesn't love spending a night out at their favorite restaurant? Unfortunately, eating out typically isn't the healthiest option. Restaurants are known for large portion sizes and dishes that are high in calories, fat, sodium and sugar. When you aren’t in control of how your meal is prepared, you're essentially putting your health in the hands of the chef.

The good news is that it is possible to enjoy a healthy meal. In honor of American Heart Month, we're offering these eight tips for staying heart-healthy while dining out.

Plan ahead. If you know you'll be eating out for dinner, eat a light lunch and a healthy snack just before you head to the restaurant. Eating light at lunch will help keep your daily calorie intake low, and eating a healthy snack (like an apple) before dinner will make controlling your portions easier.

Choose wisely. Do your research when selecting a restaurant and choose a place with a wide range of options, including grilled proteins and fresh produce. Take a look at the menu and check the nutrition info before you head to the restaurant so you can decide what you'll order ahead of time.

Balance your meal. Select a lean protein or hearty vegetarian option for your main dish — preferably one that isn’t smothered in sauce or cheese. Choose a fresh salad on the side, or opt for fruit, grilled or steamed veggies or a baked potato instead of fries, chips or other unhealthy side dishes.

Ask for sauces and dressings on the side. Salad dressing and sauces can easily turn a healthy meal into a not-so-healthy one. Salad dressing, dips and sauces are often packed with sugar and fat. If you get the sauce or dressing on the side, you can regulate your calorie intake.

Control your portion. Restaurant portions are often far larger than what you actually need in a single meal. Control your portion size by splitting a meal, ordering off the kids’ menu or choosing a healthy appetizer instead of an entree. If you do select a main entree, request a to-go box as soon as your meal comes to the table and immediately put half of your meal in the box to take home.

Drink water. Save yourself the empty calories found in sodas and alcoholic beverages and stick to water or unsweetened iced tea instead. Drink plenty of water while you eat so you'll feel full faster and be less likely to overeat.

Keep it simple. The more complicated your meal, the more likely it is to be loaded with sugar, sodium and fat. Simple options without the extras (cheese, bacon, etc.) tend to be the healthier options.

If you’re trying to lose weight or simply eat healthier for your heart, cooking light at home is the best choice. But eating out in moderation doesn’t have to wreck your health. Arm yourself with these tips next time you eat out so you’ll be sure to enjoy dining out without regrets.