Eating out can be nice once in a while or a convenient option when you don't have time to cook a meal. But the extra fat, calories, sugar and sodium (salt) can add up quickly if you eat out regularly. Use these tips to help make nutritious choices the next time you eat out.
Managing your portions when eating out
1. Follow your hunger cues. Portion sizes at fast food counters and restaurants are usually large leading us to eat more than we might at home. Listen to your body and stop eating when you are satisfied even if there is food still on the plate. You can also ask for half portions, share a large meal with someone else, or pack up part of your meal to take home.
2. Divide up dessert. If you’re still hungry, finish your meal with fruit or sip on a plain cappuccino or latte sprinkled with cinnamon. If you’re in the mood for a sweet dessert, order one and ask for extra spoons to split with others or save half to enjoy later at home.
3. Avoid super-sizing. Super-sized meal combinations might seem like a good deal, but they add more fat, calories, sugar and/or sodium.
Making nutritious choices when eating out
4. Ask for more vegetables. For more fibre and nutrients, ask for extra veggie toppings on wraps, burgers, pizzas and sandwiches. Order sides of leafy green salad or cooked vegetables. Substitute your fries with vegetables or salad.
5. Go for whole grains. Look for dishes made with whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, barley or oats. Many restaurants now offer whole wheat or whole grain buns, tortilla wraps, pasta or pizza crust upon request.
6. Keep sodium (salt) in check. Choose fewer foods that have been smoked or made with salty sauces like soy sauce. Look for low sodium versions of these sauces and ask for them to be served on the side. Find out how to spot foods high in sodium.
7. Get sauce and dressings on the side. Sauces, condiments, dressings and spreads can add extra fat and sodium to your meal. Ask for these on the side and then use just enough to get some flavour.
8. Skip drinks with added sugar. Drink water instead of sugar sweetened beveragessuch as pop, juice, iced tea, milkshakes or lemonade. Try sparkling water with lemon or lime wedges. If you drink alcohol, limit it to one or two drinks for the day.
Getting informed when eating out
9. Ask how food is prepared. Order foods that have been steamed, baked, broiled, grilled, or roasted. Fat and calories add up quickly when food is fried, deep-fried or breaded.
10. Look ahead. Ask for the nutrition information or visit the restaurant's website ahead of time. In some places, restaurants are required to post the nutrition facts of their dishes on their menu and menu boards. Look for more nutritious options that are higher in protein, fibre and vitamins and lower in fat, sugar and sodium (salt).
How can a dietitian help?
A dietitian can give you recommendations on what to eat based on your lifestyle, preferences, goals, medical history and culture. They can support you with meal planning and making nutritious choices when eating out. Confused about food labels? Your dietitian can also help you understand how much protein, fat, fibre and calories is right for you. Connect with a dietitian today!
With a little planning, you can make nutritious choices when eating out.
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This article was written and reviewed by dietitians from Dietitians of Canada. The advice in this article is intended as general information and should not replace advice given by your dietitian or healthcare provider.
Last Update – February 27, 2023