Session 11

Keys to Healthy Eating Out

Eating out is a way of life for many people, but it can be a challenge for people who are trying to eat healthfully. The good news is that it can be done. It just requires some planning and careful choices.
Mature African - American couple enjoying at the restaurant

Session 11-1

Taking Charge of Eating Out

Taking Charge of Eating Out

Paul’s Story

Man smiling for the camera with his arms crossed


Paul’s doctor tells him that he’s at risk for type 2 diabetes. So he needs to change the way he eats. Paul has a healthy breakfast and dinner at home each day, but lunches are another story.

Paul is a building contractor. During the day, he’s always on the go from one job site to another. He gets his lunch at a fast-food drive-thru or a food truck. He usually has a combo meal with cheesy enchiladas or with a burger, fries, and a soda.


Whenever someone else is preparing the food you eat, you potentially lose control of the calories in the food.

For maximum control of the calories you take in, try to limit how often you eat out. But even on those occasions when you do eat out, you can take control of the calories you eat and remain focussed on your healthy lifestyle goals by planning ahead, asking for what you want and avoiding slip ups.

Plan Ahead

Having a plan will help you prepare for difficult situations and handle them more easily. If you plan ahead, you are less likely to run into roadblocks.


Call restaurants or go to their websites to find out about low- fat, low-calorie choices on the menu.


Look through resources like Calorie King or Eat This, Not That! (book or online) for the best options at your favorite restaurant


Select a restaurant that offers low-fat, low-calorie choices.

You are more likely to find healthy choices at:

  • Places with a salad bar
  • Sit-down restaurants
  • Vegetarian restaurants

You are less likely to find healthy choices at:

  • All-you-can-eat buffets
  • Burger restaurants
  • Most fast-food restaurants
  • Pizza restaurants

Eat less fat and fewer calories than usual during other meals on the day when you plan to eat out in the evening.


Eat a small, healthy snack or drink a large, low-calorie or calorie-free beverage before you go out.


Plan what to order before you get to the restaurant, and try not to deviate.

Ask for What You Want

It is up to you to ask for what you want. Most restaurants want to meet your needs: after all, you are paying for the meal. Be firm and friendly.


To find out if an item is healthy, ask:

  • How is this made?
  • What ingredients are in this?
  • What kind of oil is this cooked in?

Ask for the foods you want- Make a healthy swap:

  • Can I have extra veggies on my sandwich instead of cheese?
  • Can this be cooked in vegetable oil instead of butter?
  • Can the fat be trimmed from the meat or the skin be removed from the chicken before it’s cooked?

Ask for a "to-go" box when they bring your meal so you can box up half of it before you start eating.

  • Restaurants often over serve.
  • Ask for the To-Go box to come with your meal.
  • Box up a portion of the serving before you eat.

Ask if foods can be cooked in a different way.

  • Can I have this baked/steamed/broiled/grilled instead of fried?
  • Can I have less cheese on this?

Do not be afraid to ask for foods that are not on the menu.

  • Restaurants can prepare your protein and veggies “simply grilled”

Ask for a healthy amount:

  • Can I get the smallest size of this item (appetizer, children’s size, half portion)?
  • Can I get the salad dressing, gravy, sauces, or spreads on the side?
  • Can my friend and I share this item?

Take Charge of What’s Around You

When you eat away from home you may find more things that will tempt you or get in the way of staying focussed on your goals. Follow these tips to help keep you in control of the situation.


Be the one to choose the restaurant so you know you’ll have healthy choices


Go with people who support your healthy lifestyle


Try not to drink alcohol before eating.


Be the first to order.

  • You will be less likely to order unhealthy meals that other people order.

Keep foods off the table that you do not want to eat.

  • Ask the server to remove bread and butter from the table.
  • Ask the server to remove your plate as soon as you are done with the portion you planned to eat. You’ll be less likely to pick at the leftover food on your plate when you’re already full.

During social events:

  • Bring a healthy, low-fat, and low-calorie dish to eat and to share with others.

  • Ask about ingredients and how dishes were prepared.

  • Fill up on non-starchy veggies or a broth-based soup.

  • Limit alcohol.

  • Keep a glass of water in your hand.

  • Practice saying, “No, thank you.”

  • Stay away from the buffet.

  • Allow yourself one small treat.