Restaurant rules: 10 tips to eat healthier

written by Gayle Jennings, RD, CDE - Feb. 22, 2017

March not only brings warmer temperatures, the chance to open up the windows and get some fresh air, it’s also National Nutrition Month (R), a time to focus on eating healthy and being healthy.

If you’re like most Americans, you do a lot of eating on the run. People are looking for fast, easy and good-tasting foods that fit into a hectic lifestyle. No matter what you are rushing to, here is a top 10 list of tips to eat healthier when you are eating out:

  1. Plan ahead. When you’re about to eat out, consider what meal options are available. Look for restaurants with a wider range of menu items, and check out websites for nutritional information.
  2. Read restaurant menus carefully for clues to fat and calorie count. Menu terms that can be mean less fat and calories are baked, braised, broiled, grilled, poached, roasted and steamed.
  3. On the other hand, items listed as batter-fried, pan-fried, buttered, creamed, crispy and breaded mean they contain more fat and calories.
  4. Ask for it. It’s is fine to make special requests at most places, just keep them simple. For example, ask for a baked potato or side salad in place of fries; no mayonnaise or bacon on your sandwich; or sauces served on the side.
  5. Out of sight, out of mind. Hunger can drive you to eat too much bread or too many chips before a meal arrives. Ask your server to hold the extras until the meal arrives.
  6. Boost nutrition by adding lettuce, tomato, avocado, peppers or other vegetables.
  7. Switch it out. A baked potato offers more fiber, fewer calories and less fat than fries, if you skip the sour cream and butter. Top your potato with broccoli and a sprinkle of cheese or salsa.
  8. Eat lower-calorie foods first. Soup or salad is a good choice. Follow up with a light main course.
  9. Two trips. If you do go to a buffet, fill up on salads and vegetables first. Take no more than two trips and use the smaller plates that hold less food.
  10. Be prepared. Tuck portable, nonperishable foods in your purse, tote, briefcase or backpack for an on-the-run meal. Consider including peanut butter and crackers, granola bars, a piece of fresh fruit, trail mix, single servings of whole grain cereal or crackers.

Remember, small changes can lead to a big difference. Try something new today! For more information about National Nutrition Month, go to

Gayle Jennings, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, is a certified diabetes educator and registered dietician with the SIU Center for Family Medicine in Springfield.