Follow This Dietician's Approach for Eating Healthy at Restaurants

Dining out puts many challenges on your plate, both figuratively and literally. 

The Challenges 

1. Over-ordering

Occurs when you walk into a restaurant feeling ravenous because you haven’t eaten anything in the last 5 hours and feel like ordering everything on the menu. The classic saying “your eyes are bigger than your stomach” applies here. When you dine out, the goal is to feel hungry but not famished. When you allow yourself to get overly hungry, you will put yourself at risk of overordering and then are tempted to overeat what is in front of you. 

2. Group ordering

Occurs when you are out with a group of friends who want to order some appetizers and split plates. However, nothing on the appetizer menu looks “light or healthy” but you don’t want to speak up and seem high maintenance. Going with the flow and letting your friends order for the group seems easier overall at this point. A few of the less healthy examples on the appetizer/bar style menu might include potato skins, chicken wings, nachos, or fried tempura. Filling up on these tempting bite-size pieces can add up calories and saturated fat quickly, and can lead your body to crave more.  

3. Portion control

One of the most challenging tools to practice and implement when dining out. Even if you order an entrée that you think is healthy, portions are often three times the size of the recommended intake with a higher percentage of salt and fat. This is where your self-control is put to the test. Calories can add up quickly between a slice of warm bread and butter, one or two shared appetizers, and your entrée. Remember that your entrée is usually 2-3 times the size of what a normal, balanced portion should be.

The Solutions

I am here to provide you with guidance on how to order healthy and make the right choices while dining out. One of my favorite tips to use in relation to dining out is to PLAN AHEAD! For example, if you know you’re going out to dinner later in the day and will likely be eating a larger portion of something “less healthy” then make sure your breakfast and lunch meals consist of high fiber, highly nutritious foods to help balance out the day as a whole.

Sample Meal Breakdowns 

Breakfast: Protein and greens morning shake or FitJoy protein bar

Lunch: High protein avocado toast (i.e. Ezekiel 4:9 bread with ¼ of an avocado on top and 1 hard boiled egg)

Dinner: (dining out) You have more flexibility to eat what you want here in moderation. My favorite choice is the “fish of the day with vegetables.” For example, wild salmon salad with steamed broccoli and sauteed spinach.

But let’s just say you want to go for the pasta dish. Here is a healthier way to order it: try the whole wheat or gluten-free noodles (or zoodles aka zucchini noodles) with shrimp or chicken and broccoli on top. Always make sure to add a protein and greens to your pasta dish. Skip the alfredo sauce and add a tomato based marinara sauce or extra virgin olive oil.

There is a resource called This site includes many chain restaurants and entrée options, where you can look up the nutrition facts and see the total calories broken down into a pie chart of fat, carbohydrates, and protein. This will help you visualize where you are getting your macronutrients and if it is suitable to your nutritional needs/diet plan.

I suggest looking at this site prior to going to the restaurant to have a better idea of what you plan on ordering. Most restaurants provide a nutrition profile on their meals (you may have to request this if it is not listed clearly on the menu). Your server should be able to guide you here. 

“Courtney’s Healthy Plate Method”

You can use this on any menu while dining out.

Step 1: Choose your veggies (be sure ½ of your plate is filled with vibrant, colorful vegetables that are high in fiber and antioxidants – streamed or sauteed with a light unsaturated oil)

Example: broccoli, brussel sprouts, zucchini, asparagus, green beans, cauliflower, etc.

Step 2: Choose your protein (this can be plant or animal based protein) – choose a lean protein which will consume about 1/3 of your plate (~3-4 ounces)

Example: fish, chicken, turkey, tofu, beans, etc.

Step 3: Choose your carbohydrate (be sure this is a high fiber, whole grain carbohydrate which will help maintain good blood sugar control, healthy digestion and weight control).

Example: quinoa, brown rice, sweet potato, etc.

Step 4: Practice intuitive eating. Simply put, eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Listen to your hunger and satiety cues. Eat slowly, and be sure to chew each bite of your food fully before swallowing because the process of digestion actually starts in your mouth.

In summary, don’t let dining out derail your diet plan. Instead, plan ahead and make actionable changes to your order to make it suitable to your needs. You will have better, more consistent energy levels (preventing the high spike and low dip in blood sugar which occurs when you make less healthy options). Not to mention your waistline will thank you! Enjoy each bite and cheers to you!


Courtney Sullivan, RD, NASM-CPT is the founder of Nutrition For Body and Mind. To learn more about nutrition and following a healthy plan to suit your individual macronutrient needs you can contact Courtney here.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

Courtney Sullivan

Courtney Sullivan is a Registered Dietitian certified through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Certified Personal Trainer, as well as a Group Personal Training Specialist certified through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She's passionate about helping her clients reach optional health through the delicate balance of nutrition and exercise. Her private practice, Nutrition For Body and Mind is focused on lifestyle behavior modifications and customized nutrition plans to help her clients accomplish their individual goals and address any nutrition related disease specific conditions.

related articles

    4 Steps to a Holiday Charcuterie Board

    Build this grain-free holiday charcuterie board in four steps! It's the perfect dish to bring to any holiday fête this season!Note from FJ: Alison is the creator behind Food by Mars, a blog for mindful nutri...

    Chocolate Peppermint Pretzel Bark

    This chocolate peppermint pretzel bark is the perfect mix of sweet and salty with a satisfying crunch! With only a handful of ingredients, this simple and festive recipe is perfect for gifting during the hol...

    The Gist on GMOs

    “GMO” is one of those words that can feel hard to place. We see “GMO-free” on lots of food products, but is it a chemical? Is it an antibiotic? Is it a pesticide? Unless you’ve done the research, it’s likely...