Tips to eat less (control your portions) at a restaurant

Tips to eat less (control your portions) at a restaurant

Follow easy tips for restaurant portion control:

Restaurant portions seem to be getting larger and larger. Use the tips below to help you control your portions when eating out.

Request a take out box right away

Ask for a take out box as soon as your food arrives and put half your entree in it. With the second half of your entree out of sight, it will be less tempting to eat.

Have your plate removed as soon as you are done eating

As soon as you’re finished eating a sensible portion of food, have the wait staff remove your plate from the table. If your plate sits on the table in front of you while others finish their food, chances are you’ll continue to pick at it…even if you’re not hungry.

If you’re finished eating and haven’t seen the wait staff, make your food inedible so you’re not tempted to continue eating. One of my clients used to call this “killing her food”. She would pour hot sauce all over her french fries so she wouldn’t eat anymore. (She hated hot sauce).

Pay attention to your level of hunger

Check in with yourself frequently throughout the meal and rate your level of hunger on a scale of 1-10. Continue to eat if you’re hungry, but stop when you feel content (Level 5 on a scale of 1-10).

Paying attention to your hunger while you’re eating can help limit your food intake to just the right amount and prevent eating to the point that you feel very full or stuffed.

Split a meal or dessert

Split a meal with a friend, family member, or co-worker to save money and calories.
If you order dessert, split the dessert. This way you can still enjoy something sweet, but limit your portion.

Order a half portion

If you don’t want to take food home with you and nobody wants to split a meal, order a half portion of food.

You’ll probably have to pay the full price of a meal, however it’s hopefully worth avoiding the consequences of overeating (feeling uncomfortable, bloated, guilty, etc.).

Stay away from ‘bottomless’ drinks

Stay away from bottomless drinks. Common bottomless drinks include iced tea or sweet tea, lemonade, and soft drinks, and mimosas at a weekend brunch.

It’s too easy to over-consume caloric beverages when you’re guaranteed a refill. In fact, the wait staff might not even ask if you want another glass; they might just fill it up.

Order an appetizer or kid’s meal as your entree

Order an appetizer or kid’s meal (if the restaurant allows it) for your entree. Chances are these choices are closer to a sensible portion of food than what is on the dinner menu. They’re also less expensive.

Skip appetizers all together unless you’re ordering one as a meal. Otherwise you might start to feel full before your meal even arrives, yet still feel like you “have to” eat it.

Fill up on veggies and water

If you want to eat something before your meal, choose water and a small salad with lots of vegetables.

Both options are healthy, low calorie options that can help fill you up and control your higher calorie dinner portion. One cup of salad greens has less than 10 calories and contains fiber to help keep you full.

Don’t go to the restaurant starving

If you’ve gone too long without eating, have a small, healthy snack before you get to the restaurant. This can help you make healthy choices and prevent overeating once you’re there.

Remove the basket of bread or chips

Ask the wait staff to remove the basket of bread or chips from the table (or not to bring it out in the first place). If you’re busy eating from the bread or chip basket (which usually gets refilled), it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll feel full before your meal even arrives.

If you really want the bread, take one piece and then send the basket back. If you’re at a large table and others want to keep the bread, make sure the basket stays at the other end of the table.

Keep tempting food off your plate

If you know you’ll have a hard time controlling your portion of a particular food, don’t order it in the first place.

Limit alcohol

Limit your alcohol intake before and during dinner. Alcohol can lower your inhibitions and make it harder to practice portion control.

Your plan to make healthy choices and eat sensibly might go right out the window with one or two alcoholic beverages.

Skip the all-you-can-eat buffet

Avoid buffets when possible. Practicing portion control at an all-you-can-eat buffet is extremely difficult with so many choices, temptations, and unlimited plates.

If you do eat at a buffet:

  • Avoid the “I have to get my money’s worth” mindset.
  • Limit your buffet trips to one or two, and decide on a number before your first trip.
  • Look at all of your food options and decide what you’ll eat before serving yourself.
  • Use a salad plate to serve yourself instead of a dinner plate.
  • Set a goal to have “open spaces” on your plate when you get to the end of the food table.

Stop justifying overeating

Listen to the things you tell yourself to justify overeating. Then ask yourself if it’s really a good reason to overeat, and really worth it.

Common excuses to overeat:

  • “I’m on vacation.”
  • “I don’t want the food to go to waste.”
  • “There are starving children in Africa.”
  • “I had a rough week. I deserve it.”
  • “My friends (or family) are in town.”
  • “It’s Friday (or any other day).”

Follow rules for a healthy dinner plate

Order a meal that resembles a healthy dinner plate:

  • Half your plate is filled with non-starchy vegetables
  • One quarter is filled with starchy vegetables or grains
  • One quarter is filled with protein

Leave food on your plate on purpose

Resign from the ‘clean your plate club’. Leave food on your plate on purpose just to prove to yourself that you can do it and be okay with it.

Be the last one to finish eating

Aim to be the last one at the table to finish eating. This strategy can help you eat slower, which will in turn help you limit your portions. (Other tips to eat slower)

This will also give you time to check in with yourself to gauge your level of hunger or fullness.

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About the Author
Stephanie Averkamp

About the Author was created by Stephanie Averkamp, a recognized health and fitness professional and sole-author of the content on this website. Stephanie's approach to weight loss emphasizes making small, realistic, and permanent lifestyle changes. Read more...

Stephanie Averkamp

Our Approach: Short-term solutions (like dieting) are unrealistic and ineffective because at some point they end. As soon as a diet or program ends, so do the results. Permanent weight loss is a journey; it's not a race or competition and there is no finish line. Read more...