Eat healthily and feel great when you dine out

Dr. Charles E. Crutchfield, III

Eating well is unquestionably one of the very best things you can do for your overall good health. Unfortunately, it can be challenging when someone else is preparing the meal. The good news is that eating healthy and well when you dine out can be easy. All it takes is a bit of planning.

Be a ‘nut ninja’

Before you go, eat a small handful of nuts and fruit an hour before you go. This tiny snack will keep you from feeling hungry and overeating at the restaurant.

Be a ‘planner on point’

Check out the restaurant’s website and menu items. Plan ahead by having a list of healthy choices already in mind. Nearly all the chains have added healthier options to their menus, so be sure to look for them.

Compare the nutrition information of the menu items. Almost all restaurants make it easy by especially identifying healthy and heart-healthy items on their menu. Many such items taste great and are good for you.  Make a list of these items so you have a good idea of what to select when you arrive.

Avoid the trap of not eating all day so that you can splurge at the restaurant. Eat normal meals. Experts say that when you skip meals before a dining event, you actually eat more than you would have and it makes the strategy counterproductive.

Be a ‘word whiz’

Inspect the menu for specific key words to help guide your food selections. Descriptions of the menu items can significantly assist you when trying to make healthy choices. Here is a list of words to look for and, subsequently, to choose or avoid.

Good words to look for on menu items:

  • steamed
  • grilled
  • baked
  • broiled
  • poached
  • roasted
  • charbroiled
  • seared

Not good words to look for — items to avoid:

  • buttered
  • fried
  • creamy
  • au gratin
  • battered
  • smothered
  • glazed

Be ‘appetizer astute’

When it comes to appetizers, look for items full of raw or steamed vegetables or grilled or steamed seafood items. Be careful with the fatty or sugar-laden sauces.

If you must have an appetizer, look for a healthy choice like edamame or a veggie-based appetizer. Be sure to have them put calorie-rich and sugar-rich condiments and dressings and sauces on the side so that you can control the portions.

Beware of the ‘sneakies’

Little things can add up to big differences. When considering beverages, avoid sugar-rich drinks. Order instead unsweetened tea, or water with a wedge of lemon, hot or iced coffee, or a beverage without sugar. Also, avoid alcoholic beverages and sweetened soft drinks; these contain an abundance of empty calories.

Skip the bread tray. Or if you do want bread, limit it to one slice. Ask that server to bring out one slice and not the entire bread tray. Restaurants know this, and it is a lot cheaper to let you fill up on bread and butter. This holds true for calorie-rich and expensive appetizers.

Be ‘salad savvy’

Always order the greens salad. Tip: do the “fork dressing dance.” This is a nifty little maneuver. Have them put the dressing on the side, dip your fork in the dressing, and then skewer some greens. It is amazing how much flavor you can get from such a tiny bit of dressing! Eating greens will fill you up the healthy way.

Be ‘veggie vigilant’

Here is a neat trick: Ask the server to “please double the vegetables.” Rarely will you get charged extra, and you will get more delicious, filling, and healthy food. You will get full, not fat.

Be ‘portion wise’

Know the difference between a proper serving size and restaurant portion. A serving size is what you should eat for good health. A restaurant portion is often what fills up the extra-large plates that almost all restaurants use. Don’t fall into the typical trap that a full restaurant plate is the same as a normal serving size.

People think that they are getting a better value with a heaping pile of food, but in the long run, the value does not overcome the poor health effects. Many restaurant portions are actually two-to-three times more than a regular serving size.

You can either share the entrée with someone in your party (and don’t worry, you will still be both satisfied and full), or you can ask for a box and take it home and enjoy it again for one or two more meals later. It then still retains its perceived good value.

Tip: If you know the restaurant serves jumbo portions, have them pre-box half of your order or entrée, so you won’t be tempted to eat it and it will be ready to go home for a meal tomorrow.

Tip: If there is a grilled or steamed seafood entrée, give it a try. Also, be sure to drink plenty of water during the meal.  You feel full, and it helps with digestion.

Finish smart

For that dessert, look for a healthy fruit-based item, or if you want to splurge — and everyone deserves to now and then — be “splurge-smart.” Order that four-layer triple chocolate cake with ice cream and whipped cream, but get one slice and order small plates and forks for everyone in the group. Everyone gets a couple of bites. That way everyone can enjoy the ultra-rich dessert in a healthy, calorie-smart way.

Remember, when you eat out, plan ahead and make wise choices. You will have an enjoyable, healthy time that is “guilt-free” and an outing that is friendly to both your waistline and your wallet.


Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He received his M.D. and Master’s Degree in Molecular Biology and Genomics from the Mayo Clinic. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine. Dr. Crutchfield was recognized by Minnesota Medicine as one of the 100 Most Influential Healthcare Leaders in Minnesota. He is the team dermatologist for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild and Lynx. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of both the American and National Medical Associations.