18 Tips For Eating Healthier While Dining Out

A night out doesn't have to equal a cheat meal.

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There's nothing wrong with going to a restaurant and going all out: you know, an overflowing bread basket, that perfect Instagram shot of you putting pasta in your mouth, a chocolate-filled dessert. Honestly, indulging when you go out to eat is easy! But sometimes you're working hard at being super healthy, and you just don't want to go back on that even if you're heading out.

It can definitely be a bit more of a struggle to eat healthy while dining out, but it's certainly not impossible. It just requires some extra willpower and a little time spent planning ahead. The short of it is that you'll want to avoid overeating, make healthy choices, and be present in the moment. How can you do all of that when you're surrounded by delicious options? Here are a few tips to follow to eat healthier the next time you're dining out.

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Read the menu before you go.

Chances are good that you'll be hungry when you walk into a restaurant, which means that you'll be hungry while staring at a menu of appetizing options—not a great combination (it's like going to a grocery store when starving). Take advantage of the beauty of technology and look up the menu before you go out to eat. You can give yourself plenty of time to select a healthy option so you already know what you want when you sit down, and you'll be less likely to make a spur of the moment unhealthy decision.

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Eat a large meal earlier in the day.

Going out for dinner? Eat a big lunch. Getting brunch? Have a filling snack before you go. You get the idea: You don't want to sit down feeling completely starving. If you're super hungry when you get there, you'll probably chow down on all of the bread and appetizers and eat much more than you intended.

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Be mindful of the bread basket.

Think of it this way: if the bread is truly delicious and something you don't want to miss out on, there's nothing wrong with savoring one piece. But if it's not even that great and you're just eating because it's there, skip it—it's not worth it.

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Get a side salad instead of fries.

Yes, French fries are the best, but restaurants usually give huge portions of them—even on the side. And if your goal is to be healthy, then, sorry, these guys don't make the cut. Most places will give you the option of swapping out fries for a side salad or a vegetable side instead, so go that route.

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Don't be fooled by buzzy health phrases.

Keep in mind that just because something says "vegan," "gluten-free," or "dairy-free" doesn't mean that it's automatically healthy. While these are obviously great options for people who have dietary restrictions, they don't actually translate to less calories or less sugar, although it's easy to assume they do.

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Order appetizers instead of an entree.

Restaurant entree portions are typically huge—research has found that nearly all restaurant portions exceed nutritional standards. If you're keeping portion control in mind, try ordering one or two appetizers instead of an entree. Appetizers are smaller and easier to manage, and they may even already be the correct portion. You're much less likely to overeat if you're not staring at a huge plate of food.

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Get sauces or dressings on the side.

Take control of your food by asking for the dressing or sauce on the side. You can then pour it over your meal so you decide exactly how much you want. If you're getting a salad with cheese, you can also ask for the cheese on the side so you can add a small amount instead of allowing the chefs in the back to do it with a heavy hand.

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Don't be afraid to make changes.

Unless a restaurant menu explicitly states that they do not allow substitutions, you shouldn't be ashamed to ask them to make some changes to your meal. Servers and managers want you to be happy with what you're eating, so they'll work with you! You can always ask for something to be cooked a slightly different way (i.e. "can you grill this instead of frying it?") or ask for no butter on your vegetables (most places add butter to veggies to make them taste better).

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Skip the fancy cocktail.

That complicated cocktail might look perfect on your Instagram feed, but it's probably loaded with sugar and calories, as well as enough liquor to leave you feeling less than great later on (which may head to more unhealthy choices). Instead of getting a fancy drink, opt for a glass of wine or a light beer. Bonus: You may even save some money.

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Keep the water coming.

Skip the soda and just make sure your water glass is constantly getting refilled. Research shows that drinking water during your meal will make you feel full (so you'll eat less) and will aid in digestion. Sip on your water constantly and take breaks between bites to drink.

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Find out how the food is prepared.

The first step towards finding out if a meal option just sounds healthy or actually is healthy is knowing how it's prepared. Look for menu words like "grilled" or "steamed," rather than "fried" or "sautéed" or "crispy." If you can't tell from the menu, just ask a server or manager to find out.

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Ask the server for their opinion.

Another way to take advantage of your server's expertise: Ask them what the healthiest option on the menu. They may know right off the bat, and if they don't, they'll ask and find out for you. They might even have some secrets to make a meal healthier that they can fill you in on or help you out with.

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Order extra veggies.

Filling up on veggies instead of an unhealthy side dish or appetizer is the way to go. Order some extra side dishes of vegetables (again, ask for no butter), or just ask the server if they can double or triple your portion (although keep in mind this will likely cost extra).

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Always add protein.

Having protein with your meal helps keep you full and satisfied. Don't just order a side salad and call that your meal—it might be low in calories, but if it's not full of filling, nutritious ingredients, it's not going to keep you full. Add a protein like grilled chicken, salmon, shrimp, or tofu to your salads.

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Ask for a box right away.

Here's a little trick to keep in mind: As soon as your waiter serves your food, ask them to bring out a box. If your entree is large, immediately put half of the food into the box to save for later. This will help you avoid overeating, and you get a meal for the next day as a bonus.

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Eat slowly.

Your restaurant experience should be enjoyable and relaxing, not just a chance to eat all the food. Remember to slow down as you eat, pause and put your fork down between bites, and talk while eating. It sounds obvious, but it's easy to forget this and to just mindlessly eat quickly while in the middle of a conversation. That means you'll probably eat more and won't feel as full.

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Make your own dessert.

It's hard to come by a truly healthy dessert at a restaurant. Skip the last course, and make your own healthy option at home—or have something prepared before you go so you know it's there, waiting for you when you get home. You still get dessert, but you'll be in the comfort of your own home and you'll know it's good for you. A win-win!

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Remember it's all about balance.

Going out to eat should be fun, so don't forget that a healthy diet is all about balance. Is it the end of the world if you chow down on the bread basket? No. Is it the worst thing ever for your diet if you order dessert? Absolutely not. Try to make healthy choices, so if you do eat a lot of bread, opt for a low-carb entree...things like that. Don't beat yourself up!

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