Fitness Nutrition Forums

Smart Substitutions When Dining Out

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Many foods offered at restaurants are not prepared in the same healthful way that you would make them at home. Heavy use of sugar, oil, butter, refined grains, and salt is all too common. But going out to eat does not have to be a diet-breaker - or off the menu. You can maintain your healthy eating habits by putting a little thought into your selections. Don't be afraid to ask your server questions about ingredients or substitutions.

Order This

Not That


Soda or Alcohol

Don't drink your calories; save them for your actual food. Liquid calories don't fill you up the way eating food does. If you need more flavor that water has to offer, ask for a slice of lemon, lime, or other fruit to squeeze. Not only is this much healthier, but water is also free!

High in calories, chemicals, and/or sugar, alcohol and soda offer virtually no nutritional value. If you must have alcohol, slowly savor one glass of wine or beer, but steer clear of the higher calorie specialty mixed drinks like piña coladas.

Baked Potato

French Fries

Better yet, make it a baked sweet potato. Enjoy it with a dash of salt and pepper, avoiding butter and sour cream. One medium potato is only about 150 calories.


Choosing the baked potato over fries will save you several hundred calories. One medium size order of McDonald's French fries is almost 400 calories. As a general rule, stay away from anything that is fried.


Salad Dressing

You get big flavor and essentially zero calories from vinegar. Ask for balsamic or red wine vinegar to save your salad a couple hundred empty calories. Skip the oil and oily dressings.

Most dressing are made with oil, which has 120 calories per tablespoon - and these are calories from pure fat with minimal nutritional value. Be conscious of how much you add to your salad, or ask for just vinegar.



Order an entrée that consists largely of vegetables, such as a salad or a stir-fry. If your meal comes with a choice of sides, opt for vegetables instead of cole slaw or fries. Visualize the MyPlate with half your plate veggies, one quarter starch, and one quarter protein.


Pasta entrees are usually made with refined white pasta, which offers you nothing but a lot of calories and little else. Serving sizes are frequently enormous and way more than you need for one meal. Watch rice portions; these can often be several cups. Stick to one cup of starch, and eat up all the vegetables (preferably grilled, steamed, or braised).

Sauce on the Side

Sauce on the Food

Ordering sauce "on the side" lets you control how much of it you eat. You will probably find that you don't need as much as you think. And some sauces are better than others: With pasta dishes, red tomato sauce is always a smarter choice than any creamy Alfredo. Omit mayonnaise and cheese-based sauces.

Sauce can sneak a lot of calories, fat, and sodium into a meal - especially creamy, cheesy, or oily sauce where fat is a main ingredient. Ask for it on the side, use sparingly, or avoid ordering dishes with heavy sauces.

Corinne Goff is a Registered Dietitian who is absolutely passionate about food, health, and nutrition. Corinne has a BA in Psychology from Salve Regina University and a BS in Nutrition from the University of Rhode Island. As a nutritionist, her objective is to help people reach their health goals by offering a personalized holistic approach to wellness that incorporates natural foods and lifestyle changes. She works together with her clients to develop daily improvements that they feel comfortable with and that are realistic. She believes that the focus on wholesome, nutrient-rich, real food, is the greatest possible way to become healthier, have more energy, decrease chances of chronic disease, and feel your best. If you would be interested in working with Corinne one-on-one, sign-up for FitDay Dietitian.

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