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How to Make Healthy Simple Swaps at Restaurants

It’s no secret that when you dine out, your meal is usually going to be higher in calories than anything you prepare at home. However, your meal doesn’t have to be a complete calorie catastrophe. With a few simple swaps, you can ensure that your meal is not only healthy but delicious and satisfying as well.

Remember, your server is your ally when it comes to learning what goes into each dish and how you can have it modified to cut calories. Since nowadays so many more people are concerned about their health and what they eat, restaurants have taken notice and are more than happy to help you custom-order your dish. For restaurants, helping you watch your waistline is good for their bottom line.

Pick Proteins Wisely

Swap out fatty cuts of beef such as filet mignon, porterhouse skirt steak, New York strip, T-bone, or ribeye steak for the leaner loin and round cuts. When it comes to pork, swap out bacon, sausage, pulled pork, pork butt, ribs, and pork belly for any cut ending in the word “loin.” Of course, with chicken, choose white meat rather than the dark meat, and swap out chicken with the skin on for skinless chicken breast.

Omit or Limit These Items

  • If ordering a sandwich or burger, skip the cheese and bacon. Eat it “open-faced” or ask them to serve it like a lettuce wrap to skip the bread altogether. If they’re available, opt for a veggie or lean turkey burger.

  • Be careful about condiments and sauces: mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, sour cream, teriyaki sauce, and hollandaise pack a lot of calories. Instead, opt for mustards, hot sauce, dill pickle relish, salsa, light soy sauce, or vinegar.

  • When ordering pizza, ask them to only use half the amount of cheese, go light on the sauce, and load it up with veggies.

Add These Foods

Don’t be afraid to ask to have extra veggies added to your dish. If you’re ordering pasta, ask if they can add in some asparagus, broccoli, bell peppers, or any other colorful, flavorful vegetable. For any dish, request that they use extra spices or herbs.

Choose This Instead of That

  • Many times, an entree comes with a side of french fries or a baked potato with all the fatty fixings. Ask to have steamed or grilled veggies instead.

  • If you're going Greek, rather than eating the pita bread served with the hummus, ask for bell pepper strips or cucumber slices for dipping.

  • Love Asian food? Ask for steamed brown rice (ask for a half portion), request sauce on the side, select proteins that aren’t battered and deep-fried, and order your entrée steamed instead of fried.

  • If you’re more into Italian food, swap out white pasta sauces for a red sauce. Start off with a brothy soup rather than bread.

  • Craving Mexican? Swap out chips for a broth-based soup, select grilled chicken, fish, or shrimp instead of steak, carnitas, or chorizo, and swap out fried rice for steamed veggies.

Slim Down Your Salads

Salad dressings can be notoriously high in fat and calories. Don’t ruin a perfectly healthy salad by letting it drown in dressing. Ask for the dressing on the side and dip your fork into the dressing and then into your salad. It’ll allow you to use less dressing and you’ll get to fully taste the veggies in the salad. Also, ask if you can have spinach or Romaine as your salad base instead of watery iceberg. Leave off shredded cheese and request a small sprinkle of Parmesan.

Skip the Fried Fare, Ask for it Baked or Grilled

If a menu selection comes with fried chicken or fried fish, ask to have them grill it without oil or bake it in the oven. For extra flavor, ask for some lemon or lime wedges and squeeze some juice on top for a burst of citrus taste.

What about Breakfast?

If you enjoy going out to eat for breakfast or brunch, beware that breakfast foods can be fat-laden.

  • Ask for an omelet with egg whites and lots of veggies (one whole egg is fine if you use two egg whites with it). Skip the cheese and top it with salsa or hot sauce for an extra punch of flavor.

  • Ask for turkey bacon or turkey sausage if they have it.

  • Instead of a glass of sugary orange juice, order some seltzer water with just a splash of your favorite juice.

Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children.

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