A Little More Each Day

One working mama learning to run & to maintain my 100+ pound weight loss!

Weight Loss Wednesday: Eating in restaurants

on May 21, 2014
In most magazine articles about losing weight, “eat at home” is an important recommendation. It’s certainly true that it is easier to control the cooking methods, quality of ingredients and portion size at home. All of those things definitely make some aspects of weight loss easier, but I have a confession: I love eating out. I love having someone bring me endless refills of my drinks and someone else to do the dishes. There are foods I love to eat that are impractical to cook at home (like sushi). Thus, throughout my year of weight loss and a year now of weight maintenance, I’ve eaten at restaurants a minimum of three times a week.

There are lots of tip guides out there for navigating a restaurant menu. My favorites are the ones that include the restaurant code words for “cream sauce” or “fried.” Those always make me laugh because I knew all of those code words before I lost weight. The big difference is that I used to look at them for a sign that something would be extra yummy and now I look at it as something to avoid. 🙂 There are links to actual diet experts at the end of this post.

My personal approach:

– Get to know the nutrition information (as best you can) at your favorite local restaurants. Knowing what your options are in your neighborhood helps minimize the panic when someone asks to go out at the last minute. I have a mental data bank of points and best options at 5 or 6 different local eateries. That gives me a good starting point at those or similar restaurants.

– If you are going somewhere new, try to pull up the menu on your computer or phone before you get there. It is easier for me to make a rational choice alone in my own space without the (unintentional) peer pressure from your dining partners / waitstaff and the temptation of the sights and smells of the other food.

– If you’re going somewhere unfamiliar, consider crowd sourcing for healthy food ideas. Ask twitter or Facebook (especially your weight loss/healthy living support group) or message boards. You can also Google for “x” restaurant type and “cheat sheets.” Both Weight Watchers and Hungry Girl have some good starting points. I used the Hungry Girl sushi good before my first sushi dining experience on Weight Watchers and found it really helpful.

– If I can’t check the menu before I get there, I do as soon as possible when I get to the restaurant. I love it when I can look at a menu while waiting at the hostess stand. If not, I do it as soon as I sit down. The key is to try to make the best decision I can quickly and close the menu so I’m not tempted to start rationalizing other choices. I go to look at my go-to healthy choices first. For me, that’s fish first (I love seafood by hubby not so much, so I don’t cook it often at home), salad or chicken if there isn’t a fish I want. Be wary of salads – not automatically healthy!

– That said, I almost always get a salad to start my meal. I always ask for my dressing on the side (I’m a fan of dipping my fork in the dressing, then spearing a bite) and no cheese. Cheese is just really hard for me to a) estimate the amount of on a salad and b) remove from the salad myself, unlike croutons. Those are generally my only two requests with salads as I don’t want to be one of those very specific people. That just takes the fun out of restaurant dining for me (but more power to you if it is you! As long as you’re nice, servers should be okay with it!). Plus, O likes my croutons.

– The easiest way for me to cut points/calories in restaurant meals is to ask for double of whatever sauteed veggie they have rather than the rice/mashed potato default. Again, an easy switch that doesn’t seem to throw servers off pace much.

Red Lobster grilled fish with double veggies

– Bookmark a portion size estimator on your phone. Weighing/measuring food at home has really helped get more comfortable with estimating portions when I’m out, but having a back up to look at when estimating a portion size is handy. Also, remember that the act of tracking your food is more important that getting the portion size exactly right every time. Just do your best.

– Some people will ask for their food to be cooked without oil, but I never really do this (I’m lazy). If it looks too oily, I’ll blot it but otherwise 1 estimate 1 point of butter/oil for any restaurant dish I eat (1/2 tbsp) unless it looks / tastes especially oily or buttery. I’ve been consistent about that from the beginning – again, for me, owning that there is extra fat in a restaurant meal is more important than obsessing over exactly how much. The consistency is key – I factor this in every time I eat out and don’t let myself skip it on days when points are tight.

– Coffee makes a good substitute for dessert (unless it’s a great dessert – then there is NO substitute). It gives me something to order when everyone else does and something to do with my hands/mouth while everyone else is eating dessert.


I really do still enjoy eating at restaurants just as much as I did pre-weight loss. I remember back at the beginning of my Weight Watchers journey going on the 100 pounds to lose message board in a panic because I’d just gotten asked to go out to pizza for lunch. It seemed like a catastrophe at the time but now, thanks to time and practice, I look to forward to any time someone else is going to do the dishes. 🙂

How do handle eating in restaurants and maintaining a healthy diet? Any tips?

Places to go for more help:
Eating out cuisine types

Ten tips for healthy dining out

Hungry Girl www.hungry-girl.com Guides to specific restaurants & food types


11 responses to “Weight Loss Wednesday: Eating in restaurants

  1. Kristin says:

    Hey!! Good morning!! Great tips!! I always pull up restaurant menus before going to the restaurant!! It’s fun for me to figure out exactly what I’m going to eat! Hehe!! Coffee for dinner is a fabulous tip and I also start out with a salad!!

  2. Great tips! I love eating out, but can’t very often due to budgeting. Usually we do 2-3 times a month and that is if we do something easy like Panera – if we go to an actual restaurant then it’s more like 1-2 times a month. I always ask for steamed veggies at a restaurant. Knowing how many calories are in butter and oil, and the fact that they really don’t add anything on taste for me, I like to get rid of those calories!

  3. Eating out is definitely doable while still maintaining healthy habits. I agree with all your suggestions, and most of them I do myself. And I love eating out, so to me it’s worth to make the effort to find healthy dishes, ask for substitutions, or whatever necessary, to be able to enjoy a nice meal out with family and friends.
    Bottom line for me though, as healthy as I pick a dish in a restaurant, it always has more calories than what I eat at home. Portions are bigger, and even the healthiest dishes have a few ingredients that I would most likely skip when making a home cooked meal.

    • The portions are crazy in restaurants! I’m so much more aware of that now than I used to be, particularly when we go somewhere and order a kids meal for my son. It’s usually more food than an adult should eat!

  4. Great post! I especially love that you still eat out but in a much more informed, healthy way! I love to eat out, too, and it’s nice to hear some practical tips to make it a healthier option! I need to work on less starches and more veggies. I’ve been getting my salad dressing on the side, too. It just seems like salads are drenched in dressing and I don’t care for my salad to be drowning in it, unlike my husband. 🙂 I’ve been on a crazy fish kick lately (tilapia, salmon, you name it) and even ordered some when we were out on Sunday instead of a burger or chicken strips. Small victory!

  5. nancykerins says:

    Great tips. I will never give up eating out. I also want to get to the point where sometimes I don’t have to make a choice based on what is the “healthy thing”. Sometimes I just need to make a choice that sounds good to me. Then eat healthy the rest of the time. If I don’t give myself that choice once in a while, I rebel.

    • I agree that you have to allow yourself the things that are really good or you’d go nuts! I find myself paying more attention now to try to determine what is really “worth it” (and thus am looking forward to dinner out tonight at our local tapas place! yum!)

      On Fri, May 23, 2014 at 8:50 AM, A Little More Each Day wrote:


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