10 Tips for Dining Out and Staying on Track, by Marty Davey, MS, RD, CDN, VLCE

posted July 2, 2024

Starting a healthy diet can be challenging when dining out. On the other hand, you’ll find that many restaurants accommodate your new eating style. I recommend limiting how often you eat out. Keep it to special occasions and focus on consuming fresh foods from the grocery store, farmer’s market, or your own kitchen.

10 Ways to Stay on Track

1. Know Before You Go

Check the menu. Look for healthy choices—grilled items, salads, vegetable sides, etc. Decide before you go and stick to your decision once you get there. Collect the menus from restaurants you like so you can refer to them.

2. Pick a Quiet Spot

Photo credit: Marty Davey

People who sit in the more distracting parts of restaurants (or by a window) eat considerably more. Commotion makes it easy to lose track of how much you’re chowing down. If you can, request a quiet table.

3. Avoid We Eat Here All the Time

The International Food Research Journal found customers making less healthy choices when they feel they are dining out for a special occasion. Ok, except…we also tend to view dining out anywhere, anytime, as a special occasion.

How many times have you eaten out this week? If a restaurant trip is truly a special occasion, don’t worry too much. But if you eat out more often be smart today because you will go again tomorrow. Choose establishments that support your long-term health.

4. Stay Away From Snacking

Photo credit: Marty Davey

Often the damage occurs before the main course is served. Many appetizers are loaded with fat from frying and dairy-free cheese. This reduces your appetite for the healthiest foods to come. Some fried appetizers can provide a day’s worth of fat for four people!

Move the tortilla chips and salsa or baskets of rolls and butter to the other side of the table when out with friends. If possible, have your server remove them completely.


5. Words Matter

Avoid dishes labeled deep-fried, pan-fried, basted, batter-dipped, breaded, creamy, crispy, scalloped, and Alfredo. These are high in calories, unhealthy fats, and sodium. Instead, choose more basic vegetables and beans. Additionally, words promoting taste and texture or appealing to emotions can increase sales by 23% and influence how you think the food tastes.

6. Be the First to Order

You decide to order something healthy, but your friend orders the cheesy burger and fries. You rethink your boring chickpea wrap. Sidestep the temptation by ordering first. They may follow your lead. Can’t order first? Make your decision, close the menu, and repeat your selection to yourself to help you stick to it. For a restaurant you visit often, ask for your healthy option without opening the menu.

7. Have It Your Way

Photo credit: Marty Davey

Before ordering your selections, ask the server about the details of the meal. Some questions to ask include:

  • How is this dish prepared?
  • Can the ingredients be modified?
  • Do you have a low-fat option?
  • What comes with this meal?
  • How large are the portions?

Don’t be afraid to make special requests. Ask that food be served with no butter, minimal oil, or no added salt. If the ingredients that would create a better choice are on the menu, the chef should be able to accommodate your needs. Substitute fries with a baked potato or a double serving of vegetables. If your dish does not arrive at the table the way you ordered it, send it back. As a paying customer, you have the right to eat food that tastes good and is good for you.

8. Make a Meal Out of Apps

Some appetizers can be excellent choices. The portion size of appetizers is often more appropriate than a large main course portion. Consider healthy options such as steamed vegetables, side of beans, and broth-based soups. Combining appetizers with a salad rounds out the meal and makes you more satisfied without adding a lot of calories.

9. Hydrate With Water

Photo credit: Marty Davey

Sweetened beverages like soda, juice, sweet tea, lemonade, and alcohol are filled with empty calories. Don’t appreciate drinking plain water? Order unsweetened tea or sparkling water with lemons, limes, or orange slices.

10. Wrap Half

When you order a large dish, ask for half to be wrapped up before it is served. Many entrée portions can fill a platter. You save calories and have lunch for tomorrow.


Photo credit: Marty Davey

Marty Davey, MS, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian experienced in nutrition research, plant-based curriculum development, and culinary skills. Her research includes working with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s GEICO study. She created and taught plant-based research curricula for studies at the University of South Carolina, Marywood University, and SUNY Downstate University. Davey wrote WFPB curriculum for Food Revolution Network and Plant-Powered Metro New York. She is an adjunct professor at Mercy University.

Marty’s data-driven, humorous nutrition presentations have been seen at the International Congress of Vegetarian Nutrition, the Pennsylvania Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the North American Vegan Society, among many others.

Find out more: @MartyDaveyRD on Facebook, Instagram, X, and TikTok. Marty’s food philosophy for her telehealth practice is “What do you want your food to do for you?”

She and husband/actor, Jim Fitzpatrick, love kayaking the Hudson River and camping near trees everywhere.

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