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What to Order When Eating Out on a Diet

| Date Posted: 7/15/2014 | Author: Ellen Geanes

What to order when eating out

What Should I Order When I Go Out to Eat?

How many times have you asked this question?

According to a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the average meal at an independent or small chain restaurant is around 1,300 calories.

Does that fit into your daily calorie plan?

When you can’t avoid eating out, make sure your order fits in your meal plan. Focus on lean protein and veggies without sauces or dressings. And be sure to squeeze in extra exercise on the days you eat out.


  • Research which local restaurants offer healthy options.
  • Before heading to the restaurant, review the menu and nutrition online. Keep a list of the healthier options, and have them with you or in your car at all times.
  • Look for restaurants who provide the nutritional information, mark healthy options on the menu or who will accommodate substitutions or modifications.
  • Be sure to pay attention to the serving size or prep techniques.
  • Most side dishes, drinks, condiments and appetizers aren’t included in the total calorie count.
  • Decide what items you will choose before you go to the restaurant. Planning in advance prepares you to make the best decision possible.


  • Ask the server to box half your meal prior to bringing it out. You will be less likely to overeat.
  • Share a meal with a friend or family member.
  • Order a la carte or a healthy appetizer and a salad to help manage portions.
  • Avoid the children’s menu which often has high carb, high fat items.
  • Ask lots of questions so you are clear about what you are ordering.
  • Ask for all your condiments and sauces on the side.
  • Avoid alcohol which is packed with calories.
  • Be the first to order so you are not influenced by others.
  • Ask them to hold the bread and chips.
  • Remember not to eat and drink at the same time. Wait 30 minutes before and after meals.

Some of the most common calorie-loaded and fattiest words to avoid on restaurant menus:

  • A la mode: In the U.S. this is code for topped with ice cream.
  • Aioli: A fancy word for a flavored mayonnaise.
  • Au gratin: Means cooked with butter and/or cream and topped with cheese or breadcrumbs.
  • Battered: Coated in batter and then typically deep-fried.
  • Béchamel: The base of most white sauces, made by stirring milk into a butter-flour roux. Fun fact - this sauce was named after Louis XIV's steward, Louis de Béchamel.
  • Beurre Blanc: Or white butter; this is a sauce made of a wine, vinegar and shallot reduction and butter.
  • Béarnaise: Another butter-based sauce, thickened with egg yolks and flavored with white wine and tarragon.
  • Bisque: A thick, rich soup usually made with cream.
  • Breaded: Like battered, breaded means the food is coated in breadcrumbs and fried.
  • Confit: When this word is used to describe a meat, it means the meat was salted and cooked in its own fat.
  • Carbonara: A sauce that includes cream, eggs, Parmesan cheese and bits of bacon.
  • Crispy: This is a nice-sounding way to describe something fried in oil.
  • Crunchy: Like crispy, this usually means fried, unless it's describing vegetables, in which case the vegetables are typically raw.
  • Deep-fried: The food is cooked in hot fat and submerged deep enough to completely cover the item. Shortening, lard or most oils are used for deep-frying, but not butter and margarine.
  • En croûte: This means wrapped in pastry dough and baked.
  • Fritters: A synonym for battered and deep-fried.
  • Golden: This usually means fried unless used as an adjective (e.g., golden beets).
  • Hollandaise: A sauce made of butter, egg yolks and lemon juice.
  • Pan-fried: Like sautéed, this seems like a healthier choice, but depending on what your food is pan-fried in (ahem, a generous pat or two of butter) it could easily be loaded with calories.
  • Refried: This typically is used to describe beans, in which case the beans (red or pinto) are mashed, then fried (usually in melted lard).
  • Rémoulade: A sauce made of mayonnaise and mustard, capers, gherkins, herbs and anchovies.
  • Roux: A mixture of flour and fat (butter, drippings or pork or beef fat) that's used to thicken mixtures, such as soups and sauces.
  • Sautéed: This sounds like a healthy choice (sauté means to cook food quickly in a little bit of oil or fat over direct heat), and it may be, but it depends on what (oil, butter) and how much your food is cooked in.
  • Scalloped: Mostly used to describe potatoes. Scalloped potatoes are thinly sliced potatoes cooked in cream and butter and topped with cheese.
  • Scampi: In the U.S. this is shrimp cooked in a garlic and butter sauce.
  • Smothered: Usually this means covered in a heavy sauce or cheese.
  • Stroganoff: Beef, onions and mushrooms are sautéed in butter and covered in a sour cream sauce.
  • Tempura: A Japanese version of batter-dipped and deep-fried.
  • White sauce: aka cream sauce.

Suggestions for ordering:


  • Appetizers: Side salad with low fat dressing, broth‐based soups
  • Entrees: Grilled, steamed, broiled or baked chicken; grilled, steamed or baked     fish/seafood; or lean beef
  • Sides: Steamed veggies
  • Avoid: Bread, fried foods, ‘value meals’, most appetizers


  • Appetizers: Miso soup, edamame, cucumber salad
  • Entrees: Sashimi, Nigiri
  • Sides: Wasabi, ginger, low sodium soy sauce
  • Avoid: Tempura


  • Appetizers: Egg drop, wonton soup
  • Entrees: Steamed dishes with protein and veggies
  • Avoid: Rice, fried egg rolls, sweet and sour dishes, lo mein, crunchy fried noodles, egg foo young (fried), spare ribs, egg rolls, anything breaded


  • Appetizers: Minestrone soup, steamed mussels/clams, grilled calamari
  • Entrees: Grilled fish, marinara sauce, whole wheat noodles
  • Sides: Steamed/grilled veggies, lemon juice or marinara for dipping
  • Avoid: garlic bread, alfredo sauce, regular Italian dressing, fried calamari, mozzarella sticks, garlic bread, cream sauces or cheesy anything, eggplant (sorry, it soaks up oil like a sponge!), stuffed pastas


  • Entrees: Fajitas (corn tortillas are lower in calories than flour)
  • Sides: Black or pinto beans, pico de gallo, salsa
  • Avoid: chips, queso, sour cream, guacamole, fried entrees, margaritas, refried beans (made with lard), hard shell tacos, crispy tortilla bowls, shredded/melted cheese, beef, quesadillas, nachos, chimichangas, enchiladas, empanadas, tostadas, chalupas, taquitos, chile relleno (which are all deep-fried)

Do your research. Plan ahead. Limit eating out to special occasions. Download an app, most restaurants have apps with nutritional information, or download one that will help monitor your calorie count for the day. The above strategies can help you stay on track with your healthy eating goals.

Visit our bariatric support group for more tips and support from other bariatric patients. Support groups are held the first Thursday of every month (except holidays) in the Shadowlawn Room at the Clara McLean House in Pinehurst. For more information, click here or call (910) 715-6283.

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