Healthy Eating: When Eating Out

Eating out at a sit-down or fast food restaurant can not only be faster and easier than preparing a meal at home – it can be healthy too! Whether you go out with co-workers or with your children, most restaurant menus have a wholesome meal and beverage options that fit into a healthy lifestyle. As a parent, leading by example is the best way to teach your children to make better choices on their own.

When eating out, simple considerations can turn an unhealthy meal, high in calories, into a healthy one, such as:

  • Avoid fried foods.
  • Minimize saturated fats by choosing lean cuts of meat – baked, broiled or grilled chicken, and fish instead of red meat.
  • Choose whole grains high in fiber – brown rice, bulgur, quinoa or millet.
  • Choose a side salad, fruit or a vegetable as your side dish instead of french fries.
  • Drink water or unsweetened tea instead of a sugary soda - for the avid sweet tea drinkers, switch to half sweet and half unsweetened tea to cut down on the amount of sugar. 100% juice or low-fat milk are good kid-friendly options.
  • If you order pizza, skip the high-fat sausage and pepperoni and order a low-fat ham and pineapple or veggie pizza, or something with grilled chicken.
  • At fast food restaurants, skip the value meal or kid’s meal – order just the entrée with a salad or fruit side dish. If you’re really craving fries, order a small fry and split it with someone.
  • If you can, order a baked potato with either cheese, sour cream, OR bacon – instead of all three.

Portion sizes are also important to remember when planning your diet. A serving of vegetables is equal to ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw, and you should aim for 2-3 servings. A serving of starches is 1/3 cup, significantly smaller than you receive at most restaurants. Finally, a serving of lean meat is generally 3 ounces, although the amount of protein you need is driven by your body build, so this serving size can be less for children or up to 5 ounces for men. Portion control also plays a major role in maintaining a healthy diet. Making sure you eat proper portions and include the right variety of foods in your diet can be difficult, and often, the guidance of a dietitian can get you on the right track.

Our area is fortunate as the team of registered dietitians and diabetes educators at Cone Health’s Nutrition and Diabetes Services is dedicated to educating families in the community on making nutritional choices and promoting healthy lifestyles.

Physician background:

Margaret “Maggie” May is the diabetes coordinator at Cone Health Nutrition and Diabetes Management Center.  Maggie is a registered dietician nurse, and Certified Diabetes Educator.  She earned a Master of Science in nursing in 1982 and a Master of Science in nutrition in 1998 from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.