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Enjoy the foods you love without a calorie overload. You’ll find ideas here for eating healthy when you're away from home.
When you know you’re going to eat out, think ahead about what foods you’ll be eating all day. For instance, plan on a light lunch if you're going to eat dinner out. Try not to skip meals, which may make you overindulge later. And most importantly, don’t show up at the barbecue or restaurant famished! Maybe eat a light snack before you leave home so you won't be so hungry? If you’d like to splurge on a higher calorie entrée, plan to skip dessert, and commit to sticking to your plan once you’re in the restaurant. And try to avoid all-you-can-eat buffets, which can really test your self-control!
Eating out doesn’t have to wreak havoc with a healthy diet. Try some of the following tactics to help make restaurant foods fit into your own eating plan.
The following foods and methods of preparation are likely your best choices to help you stay within your healthy eating plan.
Hidden calories: Look for the following descriptions to uncover higher calorie menu choices: pan-fried, sautéed, battered, breaded, au gratin, cheesy, creamy, buttered, deep-fried, béarnaise, or crispy—as in the “crispy,” deep-fried tortilla bowl holding the salad.
It’s fast! It’s easy! It tastes good! And many times it’s the cheapest way to eat out. There are lots of reasons why people cruise through fast food restaurants. “I’m trying to eat healthy,” is not usually one of them. While the occasional burger and fries won’t ruin your diet or your waistline, eating at fast food restaurants regularly might.
Fast-food chains typically have the nutritional content of their food available if you ask for it. Try to figure out the healthiest choices, including non-red meat options. And skip the super-size, double meat, extra “special sauce” offerings—they only pack in more fat and calories.
Consider your options carefully so you can make the healthiest fast food choices possible. Better yet, look for an eating place with healthier options.
No matter what type of restaurant you choose, choose wisely once inside!
You can eat light at a Mexican restaurant… with the right choices. Steer yourself toward burritos, soft tacos or fajitas, rather than hard shell tacos and crispy tortillas that are fried in lard and high in fat. Ask that your server not bring the bowl of fried tortilla chips to your table, and stay away from queso dips and nacho cheese. If you have a choice of beans, go for the pinto or black beans, rather than their high-fat counterpart – refried beans. And add some fresh salsa to your dishes – tastes great, contributes to your vegetable intake for the day, and is better for you than cream or cheese sauces!
A few restaurants do make their Mexican dishes with health in mind. Look for:
Italian dishes can fit nicely in a healthy diet. Italians traditionally eat mostly pasta, bread, beans, vegetables, fruit, and olive oil. This Mediterranean diet has been described as a one way to avoid heart disease. But watch out for those dishes that use more meats, cheeses, cream sauces, and breaded items! And be careful with the garlic bread, cheese sticks, or cheese bread, too. Look for these menu items and try to keep portion size reasonable.
One of America’s most popular and healthy ethnic cuisines, Chinese food can, however, contain a lot of salt. Remember that steamed rice is a healthier choice than fried rice, and portions are often quite large, so try sharing! Choose seafood, chicken, or tofu over beef and pork, and stay away from breaded and fried meats. You might want to try using chopsticks, too! They’ll slow you down and help you eat less.
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
American Heart Association. Dining Out. Accessed at www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Dining Out on August 25, 2017.
American Heart Association. Tips by Cuisine. Accessed at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/DiningOut/Tips-by-Cuisine_UCM_308333_Article.jsp on August 25, 2017.
Burger King. Menu & Nutrition. Accessed at www.bk.com/en/us/menu-nutrition/index.html on August 25, 2017.
McDonald’s. Full Menu Explorer. Accessed at www.mcdonalds.com/us/en/full_menu_explorer.html on August 25, 2017.
Wendy’s. Nutrition Facts. Accessed at www.wendys.com/en_US/categories on August 25, 2017.
Last Revised: October 18, 2021
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