Friends eating out

Dining Out & Ordering In for the Health of It

With a little planning and savvy, you can stick to your wellness strategy when dining out and ordering in restaurant meals. Read on for tips to eat more healthy foods, enhance your mealtime experience with family and friends, and avoid extra calories.

Seize nutrition opportunities

  • Go for more vegetables, whole grains, and seafood — foods most of us don’t get enough of.
  • Score some veggies with a salad, unfried vegetables, brothy vegetable soup, or beans and entrees like stir-fries, fajitas, kabobs, and veggie-stuffed sandwiches, omelets, and bowls.
  • If you order grains, try whole grain bread, brown rice, quinoa, and corn tortillas.
  • Choose un-breaded, broiled, grilled, or poached seafood with tomato, broth, or wine-based sauces.

Savor the experience

  • Be adventurous! Explore new cuisines to expand your palate, reignite the joy of eating, and expand your healthy options.
  • Try restaurants featuring traditionally prepared dishes built on a foundation of seasonal vegetables and fruits, whole grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices. African, Asian, Latin American, and Mediterranean are delicious examples.
  • Use the time you save with food preparation and clean-up to have a pleasurable, mindful eating experience. Eat slowly, savor each bite, relax, and enjoy your company (or peaceful “me time”) and the environment.

Survey the options

  • Plan before you order
    • Check restaurant websites or apps for healthy appealing options and calorie information.
    • Review menu descriptions for calorie traps like creamy, fried, breaded, battered, buttered, au gratin, or cheesy. Ask staff about preparation if you’re not sure and to suggest alternatives.
    • Order first in your group to help stick to your plan and avoid being swayed.
  • Be choosy
    • Choose smaller portions when available, box up ½ of your meal to eat tomorrow, split meals, or order appetizers, soup, salad, or sides as your meal to reduce portions.
    • Ask for toppings, sauces, and dressings on the side so you can choose how much to use.
    • Beverage calories can add up quickly. Choose water or a zero-calorie beverage instead of a sugary drink and look for healthier happy hour options.
  • Know the facts
    • Meals prepared away from home are associated with higher calorie intake.
    • Eating one restaurant meal/week can add 134 extra calories that week. This translates to about two extra pounds over a year or 10 extra pounds over five years.
    • Check out the tips below for simple swaps to help you avoid extra calories and “up” the nutritional caliber of your eating experience. You can also cut back at other meals that day to achieve balance.
Restaurant Swap Ideas and Nutritional "Wins"
Below are examples of swaps we spotted on some popular restaurant chain menus.*
If you check menus before you order, chances are you will discover several swaps that appeal to you.
Menu Item Lower Calorie Swap Calorie Saving Nutritional "Wins"
Regular Soda (16 oz)
~ 200 Calories
Diet Soda (any size)
0 Calories
~ 200
↓ Added Sugars
Fruit Flavored Non-Carbonated Drink (16 oz)
~ 230 Calories
Water or Seltzer + Fruit Slice (any size)
0 Calories
~ 230 ↓ Added Sugars
Sweetened Iced Tea (16 oz)
~ 130 Calories
Unsweetened Tea + Low Cal Sweetener & Lemon (any size)
0 Calories
~ 130
↓ Added Sugars
Cold Frappe-Style Café Drink (16 oz)
~ 400 Calories
Plain Hot Brewed Coffee Over Ice (16 oz) + Low Calorie Sweetener + 2 tbsp Flavored Coffee Creamer
70 Calories
~ 330
↓ Added Sugars
Flavored Hot Latte Café Drink (16 oz)
~ 300 Calories
Hot Unsweetened Flavored Brewed Coffee (16 oz) + Low Calorie Sweetener + 2 tbsp Half & Half
40 Calories
~ 260
↓ Added Sugars
Pepperoni Hand Tossed Crust Pizza Slice (1/8 large pizza)
330 Calories
Veggie Topped Thin Crust Pizza Slice (1/8 large pizza)
230 Calories
↑ Vegetables
↓ Refined Grain
↓ Saturated Fat
Small (Value Menu) Cheeseburger
~ 300 Calories
Small (Value Menu) Hamburger
250 Calories
↓ Saturated Fat
Crispy Breaded Chicken Sandwich w/ Mayo
480 Calories
Grilled Chicken Sandwich w/ Honey Mustard, Lettuce & Tomato
350 Calories
150 ↑ Vegetables
↓ Refined Grain
↓ Saturated Fat
Battered Fish Sandwich on White Roll w/ Mayo & Pickles
390 Calories
Grilled Salmon or Shrimp Taco on Corn & Flour Blend Tortilla w/ Cabbage, Corn, Black Beans & Lime Vinaigrette
210 Calories
180 ↑ Vegetables
↑ Whole Grain
↓ Saturated Fat
Plain White Bagel w/ Veggie Cream Cheese
400 Calories
Avocado & Roasted Tomato on Multigrain Toast
260 Calories
140 ↑ Vegetables
↑ Whole Grain
↑ Healthy Fats
Fried White Rice (Standard Side Size- 1 pint)
520 Calories
Steamed Brown Rice (Standard Side Size- 1 pint)
420 Calories
100 ↑ Whole Grain
Diner French Fries (Standard Side Size- 5.5 oz)
490 Calories
Diner Red Skinned Mashed Potatoes (Standard Side Size- 2/3 cup)
140 Calories
↑ Fiber
Broccoli Cheddar Soup (12 oz bowl)
360 Calories
10 Vegetable Soup (12 oz bowl)
100 Calories
260 ↑ Vegetables
↓ Saturated Fat
Creamy Caesar Dressing (2 tbsp)
110 Calories
Light Italian Dressing (2 tbsp)
40 Calories
↓ Saturated Fat
Mayonnaise (2 tbsp)
100 Calories
Hummus (2 tbsp) or Salsa (2 tbsp)
60 or 10 Calories
40 - 90 ↑ Vegetables
↓ Saturated Fat

*Nutrition information obtained from restaurant websites and FoodData Central and may vary depending on your choice of restaurant and foods.


A little nutritional know-how can ensure that you will have fun eating out or enjoy take-out with family and friends while staying on your wellness path.