Navigating the Menu: 5 Tips for Restaurant Dining

Dining out can be an enjoyable way to connect with friends, family, and co-workers. Restaurant dining plays a role in how we celebrate and socialize. Learning how to better navigate the menu, and upgrade your dining choices, can help ease the stress while you’re dining out. Here are a few of my tips and tricks for a healthy restaurant experience:

1. Scope out the Menu Beforehand    

Making a healthy choice while dining out begins even before you step into the restaurant. Most restaurants will post their menu online, so be sure to scope it out ahead of time; if you have a game plan going in you are far less likely to make a poor decision. Look for entrées that are lean-protein based, think fish or chicken and not soaked in sauces or marinades. If the dish doesn’t already come with vegetable sides, order a side of veggies (skip the potatoes peas, and corn and go with roasted over sautéed). Most restaurants can be very accommodating; if you see a vegetable side on the menu that isn’t offered with your meal, simply ask to switch! Try to make half your plate veggies.

2. Have A Healthy Snack Before You Go

How you eat prior to dining out will determine your choices at mealtimes. About two hours before going out eat a balanced snack (think carb or fruit with protein or healthy fat). Not going into the meal hungry will greatly improve your chances of making a healthy choice.

Healthy & Light Snack Ideas:
Cucumber & Hummus
Baby carrots & a spoonful of nut butter
GG Crackers & slice of low-fat cheese

3. Skip the bread

Ask for no bread from the moment you sit down – if it hits the table you will go there. Instead of munching on bread, go for a light appetizer to begin your meal. My go-to picks are salads (skip the wedge – think garden with chicken or seaweed salad),  clear or broth based soup, tar tar, oysters, shrimp cocktails,  sashimi, or a veggie side. Filling up on a fiber or protein-rich option will reduce your dinner portion by nearly half. Yay for leftovers!

4. Notice Fullness Cues

Did you know it takes 15 minutes from your first bit to when you feel it in your belly? Try to eat slowly and mindfully. Enjoy conversion with friends and family in between each bite. Notice when you begin to feel full, and ask the server to box up your meal. Not only will you have honored your body’s fullness cue, but you will also have delicious leftovers to doctor up for tomorrow’s lunch.

5. Split the dessert!

Leading a healthy lifestyle does not mean never indulging! Enjoy a few bites of dessert with your dining party. Split a sweet treat and ask for multiple spoons. Having a few bites of dessert can help you satisfy your sweet tooth and help your dining experience feel complete.

I hope these tips help you feel more prepared to make healthy dining choices. Keep these tricks in your back pocket to help you navigate your next night out!


Co-created by Molly Pelletier, Yoga Instructor and Nutrition Student at Boston University.

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