What to Order When Dining out on a Diet

Here Are the Best and Worst Choices for Dieters

Shrimp, avocado, tomato salad
Cameron Whitman/Stocksy United

Let's face it, dining out is a part of life. But restaurant meals (like buffets) are notoriously high in calories and fat. Luckily, it's completely possible to make diet-friendly decisions no matter where you're eating, especially if you know how to choose the right foods.

General Tips

  • Before you head out, review the menu online. Even if the nutritional information isn't available, checking out your options before you arrive will help you to make better, more informed decisions.
  • Don't assume you're limited to exactly what's on the menu. Restaurants are often happy to accommodate special requests, like leaving off an ingredient or two.
  • If your dish arrives and the portion is huge, immediately ask for a to-go box and pack away half to take home with you. This way, you'll be less likely to eat more than you need.
  • Learn the lingo. Steamed, grilled, broiled, and baked are all good things. Fried, breaded, sautéed, creamy? Not so much. Scan the menu for the pluses and breeze right past the minuses.


Skip the Bread and Chip Baskets: Turn a blind eye to the free carbs on the table. Not only are they loaded with empty calories but they're also typically served with fatty condiments like butter, oil, or guacamole. You could easily consume 500 calories and 20g fat before you even place your order! If your tablemates are on board, tell your server you'll pass on the basket.

Slurp Some Broth-Based Soup: A study out of Penn State has shown that eating low-calorie soup before a meal could reduce your total calories by about 20 percent! The soup fills you up and keeps you from overeating when your entrée arrives. So kick off your meal with a broth-based soup, like chicken noodle or minestrone.

Spear a Side Salad: Pass on the croutons, cheese, and creamy dressing. Request light dressing on the side then dip your fork into it instead of drowning your salad in it!

Go for Seafood, Shrimp, and More - Look for shrimp cocktail, ceviche (raw fish marinated in citrus), and steamed mussels or clams. All of these are low in calories and very filling.


The Dos and Don'ts of Salads: Restaurant salads typically fall into the "food faker" category: They seem inherently healthy but they often contain up to 1,000 calories! Special ordering can really save you here. Avoid candied nuts, dried fruit, fried protein, crispy toppings, and fatty cheeses. Instead, indulge in fresh veggies, cut fruit, and grilled protein like chicken or shrimp.

Be mindful of restaurant servings of regular dressings, which can easily add 450 calories and 40g fat to a single salad. Even light kinds can have more calories and fat than you might think, so always get the dressing on the side. Then dip, don't pour!

Protein Pros and Cons: Your best bet is chicken breast or fish, prepared grilled or baked. A petite filet steak is also a good option. The trick is to ask questions. Is the chicken breast breaded? Does the fish come in a sauce? Is the steak topped with butter? Dishes with sauces aren't necessarily off-limits. But ask for the sauce on the side so that you can control the amount and steer clear of anything cream-based or buttery.

Side Story: Starchy sides like rice and pasta are high in carbs and calories. Ask your server for a double serving of vegetables instead. A side of veggies is usually 50 calories or less as long as they aren't oily or buttery, while a side of rice or noodles typically has about 300 calories. Steamed veggies are almost always an option and some restaurants offer a variety of preparations and types, like grilled zucchini or roasted spaghetti squash. One more smart pick? Half a baked potato (take the rest home), topped with salsa or marinara sauce.


The Not-So-Sweet Facts: Think sharing a dessert order with two pals will cost you only a hundred calories or so? Guess again. Restaurant desserts often tip the scales at 800+ calories and dozens of fat grams. Even the mini desserts can pack in 400 calories.

Surprise Ending: Even if it's not on the menu, ask if they have fresh fruit. A bowl of berries with a squirt of whipped cream is a fantastic way to end a meal. A scoop of sorbet is also a smart choice.

After-Dinner Alternative - You can always hit up the frozen-yogurt shop or have something low in calories when you get home.

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