Smart Choices When Dining Out


Tips to leave you satisfied, not stuffed

Winning strategies

Have you ever gotten into your car after an evening of eating out and had to open your belt a notch? We’ve all been there: a few extra pieces of bread or a mindless overindulging of an entire platter of pasta. Take control by preparing yourself with the right tactics, and you can eat out while sticking to a healthy nutrition plan.

Before you go to the restaurant:

  • Look up the restaurant’s menu online to review your options beforehand so you’re not blindsided by the unhealthy temptations. Many restaurants now have their nutrition facts available online, making it easier to make an educated choice.
  • Have a small snack beforehand to keep hunger at bay. Have an ounce of nuts or an apple before leaving for the restaurant to curb your appetite.
  • Make reservations. Waiting for a table will increase your hunger.

While at the restaurant:

  • Control portions upfront. Consider splitting a meal, ordering an appetizer and side salad as your meal, ordering a lunch portion, or asking your server to bring half your meal in a carryout container at the end of the meal.
  • Be mindful, take your time, and focus on the company and conversation, not just the food.
  • Stop eating when you are just starting to feel mildly full.
  • Drink water between bites—it will help to fill you up and slow you down. Also, go easy on alcohol, as it contributes significant calories and can sabotage your best-laid plans.
  • Slow down - If you're eating with someone who eats slowly, try to match their pace. Put your fork down in between bites.
  • When you are finished eating, look for the waiter to take your plate away. Pop a piece of gum in your mouth to discourage picking.

Sizing up the menu


  • Fresh salads help to fill you up without adding a lot of extra calories. Keep it vegetable-based: Avoid bacon, croutons, cheese, candied nuts, and mayonnaise-based items (macaroni salad, tuna salad, potato salad).
  • Order salad dressing on the side and choose the reduced-fat/fat-free option. Try balsamic vinegar or lemon juice with a dash of salt and pepper as an alternative.
  • Decline the bread basket or request one slice per person. Choose whole-grain bread or rolls instead of croissants or biscuits.
  • Choose broth-based, vegetable-rich soups and pass on calorie-rich cream-based soups and bisques.
  • Flavor steamed or poached seafood with lemon or cocktail sauce as a healthy option.


  • Look for words that indicate lower-fat preparation techniques such as “grilled,” “broiled,” “baked,” “roasted,” or “steamed,” or order foods prepared "dry” with sauce on the side.
  • Order fish and poultry more often than red meat. If choosing red meat, choose a small, lean cut such as a petite fillet.
  • Do not order dishes identified as fried/stir-fried, breaded, crispy, tempura, creamed, or buttered.
  • Use condiments such as ketchup, mustard, pickles, vinegar, or hot sauce vs. mayonnaise, cheese-based, and creamy sauces.
  • Complement pasta with a tomato-based versus cream-based sauce.
  • Consider a healthy vegetarian option.


  • Instead of French fries, request a baked potato, steamed vegetables, green salad, cup of vegetable soup, or fresh fruit.
  • Request your potato toppings on the side and limit the amount used.
  • Make substitutions. Choosing the steamed vegetables instead of the potato or rice can save you 100-200 calories.


  • Split a dessert amongst a group.
  • Request a serving of berries or fruit.
  • Have a single scoop of a low-fat ice cream or sorbet.
  • Make a rule to limit dessert to once or twice a week.
  • Skip altogether and sip on a cup of coffee.


Helpful resources:

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/01/2019.


  • US Department of Health and Human Services. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. ( Accessed 1/3/2020.
  • Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. 7 Tips for Healthy Dining Out. ( Accessed 1/3/2020.
  • National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Tips For Eating Out. ( Accessed 1/3/2020.

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