Eating away from home but not sure what foods to choose? Here are some tips on how to eat healthy dining out for different cuisines
Hey, friends! I have lately been reminded of a profound but simple truth: when you let good nutrition slide, not-so-great things happen! My own personal diet has not been on par lately, and as I share these posts on my blog, they are actually reminders to myself to get my nutrition back on track. As a continuation of one of my last posts, 5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Diet, I wanted to share some healthy eating ideas for dining out at different restaurants.
These tips aren’t only for healthy eaters, they are also good for people with food allergies. We have multiple food allergies and intolerances in our house, so we have a pretty good handle of what to eat and what not to eat when dining out.
Most whole-food dishes (lean meats, veggies, rice, baked potatoes, etc.) are allergy-friendly as well. Just make sure you are asking the server how it’s prepared in detail if you’re not sure.
I’ve just included the most popular dining choices in this post, I’m not including more niche dining options like Brazilian, Indian, or French. I didn’t include pizza in here, either, since I rarely eat at pizza places and if I do I get a salad due to food intolerances. Wherever you choose to eat, you can stick to the same general ideas of what to avoid and what to choose:
- Foods labeled grilled, broiled, steamed, and *sometimes* sautéed are usually prepared with less oil so they are healthier choices
- Salads (watch the condiments! Cheeses, dressings, croutons, etc. can quickly add lots of calories. Ask for them on the side and add them yourself)
- Lean meats with veggies (grilled chicken or fish and steamed vegetables can be found most places)
- Foods labeled with fried, tempura, creamed, smothered, covered, crispy (usually indicated fried), buttery, drenched, etc.
- Avoid heavy sauces, gravies, cream sauces, heavy condiments. You can always ask for these things on the side and add them to your preference
All of my cheat-sheets for health dining out are included in a 3-page PDF that you can download and print to keep with you. If you want more healthy eating tips, check out my post on healthy eating tips for traveling!
Also note that I’m not using words like “good” or “bad”. The goal here is to choose the best options you have available to you at the present moment, and not to vilify foods or make you feel guilty for eating them!
NOTE: if you are avoiding certain foods due to a diet, don’t tell the waiter that you have food allergies! If you do have food allergies, be up front, but if you don’t have food allergies and are simply watching your diet, don’t fake it with your server. Be honest and very clear about what you want or don’t want on your food.
Asian: Sushi, Chinese, Japanese, Mongolian
I’m starting this off with sushi since it is my favorite type of food to eat! Traditional sushi is typically very healthy: it doesn’t have a lot of processed ingredients or thick sauces and it’s full of fresh seafood. Modern and Americanized sushi choices are a different story. There are decadent rolls and appetizers that are fried and covered in mayo-based sauces (also tricky if you have egg or soy allergies).
While some of those can make nice treats once in a while, you definitely don’t want to eat those all the time. If you have a soy allergy, most places are happy to withhold the soy sauce from a dish. When we eat sushi, I bring my own container of coconut aminos to dip my sushi in since I have a soy intolerance.
- naruto (cucumber wrapped rolls, also great for grain-free or low-carb people)
- simple rolls and hand rolls
- brown rice
- steamed vegetables
- miso soup (if no soy allergies) and other broth-based soups
- green salad and seaweed salad
- Foods labeled fried, tempura, battered, smothered, covered
- Cheese-filled or cream cheese rolls sushi rolls
- Fried sushi rolls or rolls with lots of sauce
Just make sure that whichever you choose, you’re getting plenty of veggies with it. Seaweed salad is a great option and one of my favorites!
We don’t eat American too much these days, but I like to order fish when I eat out since they can cook it better than I can (I’m not a good fish cook!). Grilled fish with vegetables is an awesome go-to meal at places like Applebee’s.
- green salad
- lean cuts of meat, chicken, or fish
- steamed or roasted vegetables
- fresh fruit
- baked potatoes or sweet potatoes (without heavy toppings)
- brown rice
- Broth-based soups
- heavy cream sauces and gravies
- foods labeled fried, battered, creamed, smothered, drenched
- Cream-based soups
- Creamy pasta salad and potato salads
Salads are nice since almost every restaurant will have some type of salad. Make sure to choose dressing on the side, and don’t be shy about asking for salad toppings on the side or completely removed, especially if you have food intolerances.
Mediterranean (Greek, Italian, Lebanese, etc.)
We don’t eat Greek or Italian much since we don’t have a Greek restaurant close by and the local Italian place is so-so. But we do try to get Greek food whenever we get the chance, usually when we’re traveling. If you have nut allergies, ask your server if they use pine nuts, walnuts, and pistachios, which are common in Mediterranean cooking.
- lean meats and seafood
- hummus (that doesn’t have too much oil)
- Foods labeled as grilled, baked, broiled, steamed
- deep fried items
- heavy cream sauces
- high-fat sausage and meat
- foods labeled buttery, drenched, creamed, smothered, fried, battered
- heavy sauces and creams
My favorite healthy Mexican dish is ceviche hands down. It’s kind of fun to go to different Mexican places and see how differently everyone prepares it, too. One of our favorite local places uses cooked shrimp in the ceviche, but when we traveled to Mexico they prepared it the traditional way with pieces of raw white fish.
Ceviche is nice because you can easily adjust how much starch/carbs/grains you eat with it. If you are low carb or grain-free, you don’t have to eat it with crackers or chips – it’s delicious on it’s own! If you order a very large burrito or a very large dish, save half or more for later and eat until you are satisfied.
Fajita meats and veggies are sometimes a good choice, but some restaurants drench their fajita meat and veggies in oil, though. This spells disaster for me since most restaurant cooking oil has soybean oil and my stomach really hates that stuff (bad things happen). If you want to avoid this, you can always ask them to cook with as little oil as possible when they prepare your food, or just choose a salad or ceviche to be on the safe side.
- fajita meat and vegetables (if not covered in oil)
- street tacos (if not drenched in oils and heavy sauces)
- Foods labeled as grilled, baked, broiled, steamed
- Foods labeled as battered, fried, tempura, cream/creamed, smothered
- High fat meats and sausage
- Dishes with an overabundance of cheese – you can ask for half the cheese and get sour cream, etc. on the side
Sarah Jane Parker is the founder, recipe creator, and photographer behind The Fit Cookie. She’s a food allergy mom and healthy living blogger based in Wyoming. Sarah is also an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, ACE Certified Health Coach, Revolution Running certified running coach, and an ACE Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist