How to Keep Calories in Check While Eating Out at Restaurants

By Jen Jewell

If you’re on the go, trying to maintain a healthy diet and find yourself eating at a restaurant, I've got some advice. There are simple tips to help keep calories in check no matter where you eat.

It's All About Mastering the Menu

  • Look for/ask for grilled, steamed or seared protein options
  • Look/ask for grilled or steamed veggies (no butter or oil)
  • Say no to anything that comes “smothered” in any ingredient (sauce, dressing, cheese, etc.). If you want to try a dressing or sauce, ask for it on the side. Dip your fork in the dressing/sauce, then drizzle a little bit on your food. This small tweak will save you hundreds of calories!
  • Be high maintenance (but nice). If you don’t see a healthy meal option on the menu, create your own! Restaurants accommodate food allergies and dietary restrictions. Asking for a grilled protein and big plate of steamed veggies is simple and very doable for any kitchen. For healthy carbs, rice, a baked potato or even a small serving of pasta will do. Add flavor to plain protein and veggies with a side of lemon, or sauce on the menu. If you see avocado as an option, ask for that. A side of olive oil is always a good option because it adds a ton of flavor. But only use a light drizzle to avoid packing on calories.
Now you have the secrets to mastering any menu. Below are some examples of healthy foods I order for different cuisines.
Mexican Restaurants: Burrito bowl (meaning all contents of a burrito in a bowl with lettuce instead of a tortilla. You can do this at ANY Mexican restaurant to make the dish a lot healthier. Opt for chicken or steak, rice, black beans, veggies, lettuce, salsa, guacamole or avocado. Hold the sour cream and cheese. I also love street tacos when I am on the go. Grab a couple of tacos stuffed with a grilled protein, lettuce, and avocado. No cheese or sauce.
BBQ Restaurants: I love BBQ and get this on a very regular basis. Two simple tips here: be mindful of the sauces and the side dishes. Most slaws, potato salads, etc., have a lot of fat and excess calories. If you are going to indulge in a side dish, go for corn on the cob, baked beans, side salad. As for the meat, I stick with chicken, turkey, or lean brisket.
Burger Bars: You don't have to save burgers for your cheat meals. Ask for the leanest cut of meat the restaurant has. Sometimes a Kobe beef burger is actually healthier than the turkey burger! If you don’t want the extra calories from the bun, have them place the burger in a lettuce wrap for you. Sub out fries for fruit or a side salad.
Italian Restaurants: Food from Italy is fresh, vegetable dense and served in small portions. The Americanized Italian food is far less healthy and served in much larger portions. If you find yourself in an Italian restaurant, always start with a salad. For your entrée, opt for fish or chicken (grilled if possible) and load up on a side of veggies. If you are dying for a saucy pasta dish, ask for a small side of it to taste or order a half-portion with sauce on the side. The principles I listed in mastering the menu apply here.
Mediterranean Restaurants: Kabobs, kabobs and kabobs! Load up on chicken or steak skewers, have a giant salad, some rice and enjoy a piece or two of pita with hummus.
Seafood/Sushi Restaurants: As long as whatever dish you get isn’t slathered in butter or deep fried, you’re generally good to go! When it comes to sushi, watch out for tempura or other "crispy" rolls. Be mindful of those that have extra sauces added. Stick to the rolls that have lots of fish/protein on top, veggies and avocado.sauches and cream sauces. Ask for brown rice on the side!


Jen Jewell is the bubbly meets badass fitness personality who takes a versatile “fun with fitness” approach to training. Although she is a fitness pro, she isn’t overly restrictive with her nutrition and workouts. She loves yoga, hiking, and outdoor workouts. She actively coaches people around the world who want to get healthy and fit. Follow Jen on her journey. 

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