6 Tips for Eating Out: Making Good Food Choices Outside the Home


Read time: 4 minutes

What to know about fitting eating out into a healthy lifestyle

  • We often eat excess saturated fat, salt, and calories when eating at restaurants

  • Learn tips and tricks to help you make good choices when eating out

With the surge in popularity of fast-casual restaurants, grab-and-go food, and seemingly healthier fast-food establishments, people are dining out more often. Dining out, especially when you’re pregnant or have little ones at home, has so much appeal. Someone else preps, cooks, and serves the food and you don’t even have to clean up!

We often view ordering restaurant food as a time to indulge. This can lead us to eat larger amounts of food and make less nutritious choices than we would at home.1 Indulging is absolutely ok - and part of life. But if we are regularly overindulging, it can hinder our health goals over time.

Read on to learn how to help make nutritious food choices when eating out.

On the go? Be prepared with snacks

One reason we eat outside of the home is that life is so busy.

If you know you’ll be out and about for a while, pack a snack or two. We often pack snacks for our kids, but we may need one as well! It helps us to avoid making less nutritious decisions while ravenous and grabbing food from a drive thru.

Some nutritious, satisfying snacks that can be kept in a purse, car, or desk are:

  • Dried fruit and nuts

  • Roasted chickpeas or edamame

  • Snack bar containing only whole foods like fruit, nuts, and seeds

  • Popcorn

  • Whole grain tortilla or crackers with nut butter15

Perishable snacks like yogurt, string cheese, 100% whole grain bread with avocado or hummus, and fresh fruit are great options as long as you’re able to keep them in a cooler with an ice pack and eat them within a few hours.15

Find more snack inspiration here:

Nutritious Snack Ideas during Pregnancy

Nutritious Snacks for Babies and Toddlers

Try a grocery store for a quick meal win

Grocery stores are another option for finding quick nutritious meals and snacks when you’re on the go.

Many grocery stores have a prepared food section with fresh sandwiches, sushi, soup, and a salad bar. All grocery stores have yogurt, hummus, fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grain crackers, cheese, nuts, bottled water, and a wide variety of other nutritious “to-go” options.

Read about: 8 Tips for Simple, Quick, Healthy Cooking

6 Tips for Eating Out

1. Explore: Review the menu ahead of time

Making a nutritious food decision when you’re hungry and being tempted by all those delicious restaurant sights and smells can be tough, so try to decide what you’ll eat before you go.5,16 Many restaurants have nutrition facts on their websites to help guide your decision.2,3,4

When scanning the menu, think about having a balanced meal that includes protein, whole grains, and vegetables or fruit.

Whole grain foods include:

  • Brown or wild rice

  • Quinoa

  • Whole grain bread, tortillas, pasta

  • Oats

  • Whole grain farro6,7,8,9

Protein foods include:

  • Chicken

  • Lean beef

  • Fish

  • Eggs

  • Tofu and other soy products

  • Beans, nuts, and seeds8,10

Help limit extra saturated fat, salt, and often excess calories by choosing foods that are:

  • Baked

  • Steamed

  • Grilled

  • Roasted

  • Poached

  • Broiled2,5

Foods that are fried, breaded, crispy, battered, cheesy, or creamy are usually more laden with in extra saturated fat and calories, so you may want to choose these less often.2,5

Read about:

Types of Fats: Knowing Which to Choose

Protein: Getting Enough of the Best Sources

How can I Include more Whole Grains in my Diet?

2. Customize: Don’t be afraid to request changes to your meal

Feel confident in asking how something is prepared. If your server doesn’t know, they are usually very willing to ask the chef or kitchen for more details.

For example, you may ask:

  • Are the refried beans made with lard?

  • Is the white wine sauce made with butter?

It’s also ok to ask for something to be prepared a different way.

  • Can the chicken be grilled instead of fried?

  • Can mayonnaise, dressing, or special sauce be brought on the side?

  • Is there a veggie-packed side dish on a different entree that can be substituted?

  • Can the veggies be steamed rather than smothered in butter or oil?

  • Can you leave off the fries and instead get a double side of vegetables or a side salad?

  • Can you get the meal without the extra shredded cheese, croutons, and bacon bits?

3. Reflect: What do you really want, and what can you go without or reduce?

Think about what you enjoy and if certain items add to a dish or if you can take them out.

  • What foods are you more enthusiastic about than others?

  • Do you need the bread basket or chips before your entrée?

  • Are you full and could skip dessert?

  • Are there foods you eat because they are ‘just there’?

  • If there are flavorful salsas and seasoning, are cheese and sour cream both necessary?

This can also be used if you are a specialty coffee drinker, especially if you have them regularly.

  • Is the whipped cream something you need?

  • Can you order 1-2 pumps less of a flavored syrup or 1-2 packets less of sugar?

  • Could you get fat-free or 1% milk instead of whole milk, creamer, or half-and-half?

Reflect on what you truly enjoy and what you could skip.

4. Share or split your meal

Often portions are large at restaurants and may be enough to serve two (or more!). Try to mimic the amount you’d eat at home if you were to create the same dish. Box up any leftovers to enjoy the next day or share with a friend.11

If you’re eating with your child or alone, sharing the meal may not be feasible. Ask the server to box up half your meal before it even comes out to help reduce the temptation of eating more than what your body may need.

Why does this help?

Research indicates that the larger the portion size in front of us, the more we tend to eat.17

This shows that it’s often tough for us to visualize the right portion for our body when given large amounts of food. That’s why ordering smaller portions or asking for a smaller portion to come out from the kitchen can be very helpful.

5. Role Model: Show your kids how to eat nutritiously when eating out

When dining out with your little ones, choose restaurants that have healthy options for kids.1

You can make healthier substitutions like:

  • Fruit or vegetables instead of fries or potato chips

  • Low-fat or non-fat milk instead of soda or a sugary beverage

A strong factor in determining a child’s eating behaviors and food choices are what and how they see their parents eat.12,13,14

If you want your child to eat healthy dining out, show them how it’s done.

Learn more: Family Meals: Developing Healthy Eating Patterns

6. Be beverage savvy

Beverages can easily and quickly add extra calories. While water is the best choice when it comes to meeting our hydration needs, it’s also possible to splurge occasionally for a sugar-sweetened beverage in a way that won’t break the bank.

To help make a better decision, choose the smallest size possible for your sugar-sweetened beverage and get water should you still be thirsty after finishing it. You can also order the sweet beverage mixed with half soda water.

This will not only add bubbles (or enhance the bubbles already there), but also help dilute the drink so that you’re taking in less added sugars.

Read about: What to Drink Instead of Sweetened Beverages

Let's Chat!

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Our Happy Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitian nutritionists certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Mon-Fri 8am-6pm (ET). Chat Now!

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

How To Minimize Processed Foods in Your Diet

Minimizing Added Sugars in your Diet while Pregnant and/or Breastfeeding

Nutritious, Easy, Quick Meal and Snack Ideas for the Family

4 Tips for Eating Mindfully as a New Parent

How do I Choose Store Bought Baby Food?