Eat Healthy While Dining Out: Yes! It Can Be Done!

0601-master-0449I wrote a few days ago about the Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives 2014 conference I recently attended at the Culinary Institute in Napa. Today I thought I would share tips and ideas from one of the experts at the conference for staying healthy while dining out.

First she shared with us some of the “Culinary Trends” for 2014 from the National Restaurant Association:


1) Locally sourced meats and seafood

2) Locally sourced meat

3) Environmental sustainability

4) Healthful Kids’ meals

5) Gluten-Free dining

These all sound great! And let me tell you how proud I was to live in an area of the country that shares these same goals for health and food; we are WAY ahead of most of the country!

However, in most parts of the country the 2014 “Unhealthy Dining Trends” are felt everywhere:

1) Large portions

2) High salt

3) Fried foods

4) Large sodas

5) Up-selling/the bargain: more bad food for less money

Before you and your family go to a restaurant (or even fast food), ask yourself: “Am I eating out for convenience or is this a celebration?” This can provide a framework and context for ordering.


Strategies for success:

  • Plan ahead! Check out restaurant websites for nutrition information. But really, who has time to do that?! Chances are you went out because it was 5pm and you had NO idea what you were making for dinner (and practice for Jimmy ends at 6:00pm!) I love using images as soon as I sit at a restaurant so I can immediately identify the healthiest options at that restaurant
  • Watch for the 3 B’s– Bread, Butter, Beverage! Calories, fat and sugar can add up even before you order your meal. Skip them if you can!
  • Portion Control! – order appetizers as meals, but be careful! I’ve seen appetizers that are over 1,000 calories and very high in fat!
  • Look for Healthy Cooking Techniques- grilled, roasted, stir-fry, nut coated, poached in wine
  • Build a Smarter Salad- add seeds, nuts, darker greens (ask for spinach instead of iceberg or romaine), add beans, dried fruits, olive oil, dressing on the side and use moderate amounts! Avoid lots of cheese, bacon, fried tortilla strips and wontons, as well as creamy dressings. This is kind of embarrassing, but I often have small little bottles of fancy flavored olive oil and vinegars in my purse! My co-workers at the hospital make fun of me often! But it works!
  • Feast on Vegetables! – Make them the center of your plate! Look for variety and color, seasonal, and fresh! Substitute the mashed potatoes or French fries for veggies.


  • Go for the Whole Grain- brown rice, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, farro, barley. You will be much more satisfied and eat less! Look for the “Whole Grain” symbol on restaurant menus
  • Healthy Kids- Beyond the kid menu; order an adult entree and split it with your child! My husband and daughter always split their favorite pasta dish with olive oil, garlic and chicken at out favorite Italian restaurant (it helps my husband not to eat the whole thing!). Check out theKids Live Well restaurant program for more info. Ask the server to bring out a fruit plate or steamed veggie when you place your order and have them bring it out ahead…hungry kids are much more likely to eat the fruits and veggies first!
  • Be picky! Remember the majority of the food industry is in the business of selling tasty food you will pay money for, NOT in the business of improving your health! So ask for no butter, sauce/dressings on the side, substitute sides for vegetables or salads; after all, YOU are paying for it, and better to pay with your wallet than with your health!
  • Savor your food and enjoy your meal! For us eating out is a treat, so I make sure I appreciate every bite! I SO appreciate anyone else that is cooking for me and my family! The food just tastes better when someone else makes it!

Next Blog I’ll share some of my favorite recipes from the conference!



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