Healthier Plate

Dining Out: Tips and Tricks to Stick to Your Diet

Jul 23, 2017

By Charanya Sundar, MS, RDN, LD

Sticking to your diet is one thing at home, but eating healthy at restaurants can be a challenge. When cooking at home, you have complete control over what goes into your meal and how your food is prepared. Eating out, you have less control. The good news is that it is possible to eat healthy, even when you’re not at home. Here are some tips and tricks to help you stick to your diet when eating out.

Plan ahead of time. You can be the one who picks the restaurant. You can tell your friends something like “I know this awesome restaurant that have the best fajitas ever!” It will be difficult for them to turn that idea down and you are more likely to end up where you want to be. If someone suggested a restaurant, don’t shut them down. Instead, stay positive and look for a restaurant’s menu online. If the restaurant does not have a menu online, remember what constitutes a healthy meal: lean protein, fruits and vegetables and healthy fats from nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocados.

Don’t show up hungry. The hungrier you are, the more likely you are to make a mistake or knowingly pick something that is not good for you because you are starving. If you go to a restaurant hungry, bring piece of fruit or almonds to munch on, especially if people will be snacking on bread or chips before the meal.

Bring your own condiments. This includes coconut aminos, homemade salad dressing, mustard, ketchup, pickles or sugar substitutes.

Don’t be afraid to ask. Restaurants are very accommodating these days so don’t be afraid to ask for a substitute for fries, holding sauces on the side or ordering off of the menu.

Control portions. Restaurants serve enough food to feed an army. Don’t feel obligated to finish what is on your plate. Consider sharing a meal or packing half so that you can have another meal at a later time. Eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed, and take the rest home. Listen to your internal hunger signals and stop when you are full. A portion of meat is about the size of your palm or 3oz, salad is about a cupped hand, a serving of fruit is about the size of a fist, a serving of starch is the size of a baseball, an ounce of cheese is your middle and index finger together, a serving of salad dressing is the size of your thumb (or 1/2 of a ladle at a salad bar).

Practice dealing with social scenarios. We’ve all had that friend or family member who pokes fun at our new way of eating. For some, this can be a deterrent for eating out. However, if we practice what we will say, it will make the outing more enjoyable! If someone questions your new way of eating, state that you have an allergy, or just a simple explanation “this food is what works best for my health.” Keep it short and there is no need to over explain your choices or try to justify yourself. Also, don’t assume that people will react negatively — you never know who may turn out to be supportive.

Enjoy yourself! Dining out is supposed to be fun. You get to connect with your friends and family. Have fun and enjoy the conversation. Plus, there is the added bonus of not having to clean up after you eat! if you end up eating something that is not perfectly on your diet, don’t let it ruin your day. Learn from the experience, decide what steps you can take next time and move on. Get right back on track at the next meal or snack.

Healthy Menu Options
Here are some ideas for healthy choices you can make at nearly any restaurant.


These are the foods that are very difficult to avoid. They are brought out at the peak of your hunger before you even order your food. Tell the waiter to hold the bread or chips with salsa before he even brings it out. If you are dining with colleagues or friends, choose a seat away from the appetizers, or pass them to the end of the table.

If you’d like something to snack on, request cucumber slices or celery sticks and salsa.


While appetizers tend to be higher in calorie, it seems that several restaurants offer lean protein options including:

  • Shrimp Cocktail
  • Ceviche
  • Salami, olives, artichoke hearts
  • Chicken skewers


Select from broth-based soups including Pho, chicken noodle soup, miso soup, hot and sour soup, chicken soup with wild rice and black bean soup.


Salads are a great option when dining out. You can order a protein with a bed of vegetables and healthy fat. Remember that beans and corn are considered a starch and your serving size for that should be no more than 2 tablespoons. For toppings, you can have unlimited yellow peppers, banana peppers and pickles and select up to three of the toppings listed below:

  • 6 Croutons
  • 1 tbsp dried cranberries
  • 1 tbsp sunflower seeds
  • 1 ounce cheese

One serving of dressing is typically 1/2 of a ladle (2 tablespoons) or 1/2 of a packet. You can make your own with olive oil and vinegar or select from the options the restaurant offers.

Renell’s Salad Dressing Tip: Get salad dressing on the side and dip fork into dressing before taking a bite of your salad to limit the calories while still adding plenty of flavor to your food.


You can stay on track by selecting a dish that contains meat, cheese and veggies. Remember to always request grilled, broiled, stir-fried, poached or baked. Don’t have anything breaded or fried. Skip out on high sugar sauces (i.e. BBQ, honey mustard, sweet chili sauce) and instead, use mustard, vinegar, hot sauce, lemon or lime to flavor your dish. Ask for all dressings or sauces to be served on the side. For sides, substitute French fries or mashed potatoes with a salad or steamed vegetables. Most restaurants offer these substitutions at no or very little additional cost.


Fajitas — Order with beans, salsa, cheese, veggies plate of shredded lettuce instead of rice, no tortilla

1 Slice Thin Crust Pizza — add some grilled chicken and veggies on a thin crust pizza. You can fit in an occasional slice of pizza in a healthy post-op diet.

Burger or sandwich, no bun — Order a plain burger patty or deli meat in a lettuce wrap instead of the bun. You can add your own seasonings and sauces.

Sashimi — If at a sushi restaurant, order the meat without the rice like sashimi or request to have it rolled in cucumber instead.


What to do? Can we eat dessert post surgery? You can practice the three-bite rule with desserts to just try it. Take three bites and then set it aside for a few minutes. You may see that even just those few bites of a great dessert can be very satisfied and might be all you really wanted in the first place.

  • Snappy Salads
  • LYFE kitchen
  • Zoes Kitchen
  • Below 40
  • Freshii
  • Snap Kitchen
  • MyFitFoods
  • Simply Fit Meals
  • Chopped

About the Author
Charanya Sundar is a Registered Dietitian with PsyMed, Inc. She helps prepare Nicholson Clinic patients undergo lifestyle changes to be successful with surgery and minimize complications, disease risk and nutrient deficiencies. She enjoys sharing unique recipes and exercise plans to show that having a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be restrictive and can be enjoyable.