Tips to eat healthy and save calories at a restaurant

Tips to eat healthy and save calories at a restaurant

Here are 11 tips to save calories when eating out:

Do your homework

If you know where you’re going out to eat, visit the restaurant’s website ahead of time. Look up the nutritional information for various dishes and decide what you’re going to order before you get to the restaurant. Choose a healthy (or healthier than normal) dish.

If the restaurant’s website doesn’t provide nutrition information, use a website such as to find the information.

You might be shocked to find out the calorie content of restaurant meals. Reading that your favorite dish has 2500 calories might help you make a healthier decision.

Skip the Menu

If you’ve done your homework, you already know what you’re going to order. Tell the wait staff you don’t need to look at a menu.

Browsing the menu might tempt you to sway from the healthy meal you’ve already decided to order.

Be the first to order

Be the first at your table to order to prevent being tempted by others’ food choices.

Drink water and limit alcohol

Drink a full glass of water and order your food before ordering (or drinking) any alcohol. If you order more than one alcoholic beverage, drink a full glass of water in between drinks.

Both of these tricks will help you limit your calories (calories in alcohol) and prevent the influence of too much alcohol on your eating. Alcohol can lower your inhibitions and make it harder to use portion control and stick with your plan to make healthy choices.

Skip the bread, chips, and fries

Ask the wait staff to remove the basket or side of bread, chips, or french fries. It’s too easy to overeat from the basket, and these foods offer very little nutritional value.

Look for healthy words on the menu

Look for words on the menu that describe healthy cooking methods:

  • Baked
  • Broiled
  • Grilled
  • Steamed

Other healthy cooking methods

Some restaurants use symbols such as hearts on their menu to represent healthier or lower calorie dishes.

Limit high calorie and high fat foods on the menu

Limit foods that use the following words in their description. These words generally mean the dish is high in calories and fat.

  • Battered – coated in a batter and typically fried
  • Buttery
  • Cheesy
  • Creamy
  • Crispy – usually means fried
  • Crunchy – usually means fried
  • Fried or deep fried,
  • In gravy, butter or cream sauce

Ask questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about modifying your order. You are a paying customer and have the right to ask.


  • Can I get a side salad instead of fries?
  • Can I get a side of fruit instead of toast?
  • Do you offer half portions of food?
  • Can I get my burger in a lettuce wrap instead of the bun?
  • What vegetables can I order as a side with that?
  • Can I get the vegetables without butter?

There is no harm in asking if you can modify a particular dish. If the restaurant can accommodate your request, great! If not, at least you asked and at least you know for the future.

Make healthy substitutions

If and when possible, make healthy substitutions. For example, order:

  • Olive oil and vinegar instead of higher calories salad dressings
  • A fruit or a cheese plate instead of dessert
  • A side salad or baked potato instead of french fries
  • Black beans instead of refried beans
  • A single patty burger instead of a double patty or a 1/3 lb burger instead 1/2 lb burger
  • Thin crust pizza instead of thick crust pizza
  • Whole grain bread instead of a white bun or croissant
  • Tomato sauce instead of alfredo sauce

Avoid “getting your money’s worth”

If you’re at a buffet or any restaurant with some sort of dining special, avoid the “I have to get my money’s worth” mindset.

Commit to eating for health, nutrition, and weight management instead of “to get your money’s worth”.

Add vegetables whenever possible

Add vegetables to your meal whenever and wherever possible. Order a side salad or extra vegetables with your meal even if it costs extra.

There are only 10-45 calories in one cup of (plain) vegetables. Watch out for the butter and dressings that add calories to your vegetables.

Use portion control

Sometimes it’s hard to pass up your favorite, high calorie dish. When all else fails, use portion control. Order your favorite dish and enjoy it, but eat less of it.

  • Ask for a ‘to go’ box as soon as your food arrives and put 1/2 your entree in it.
  • Order a half order of food even though you may have to pay the full price.
  • Split a meal with a friend, family member, or co-worker.

Other tips for portion control at the restaurant.

Ask for condiments on the side

Ask for salad dressing, mayonnaise, butter, and oil on the side. That way you can see and control how much of it you eat instead of not knowing how much was added to your food.

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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...