Healthy Eating 101: Healthy Eating Out

Enjoy healthy meals outside of your kitchen that keep you on track.


By Aimée Suen, NTP


Though cooking at home is the easiest way to manage your food and what you’re eating, it’s inevitable that you’ll go out to eat with friends, a loved one, or for work. So often eating out can be viewed as a treat and the health goals can get put on pause for one meal of indulgence. While there’s no problem with enjoying eating out, there are ways to apply your healthy eating principles you have in your own kitchen to any eating out situation.

Eating at a Restaurant

Whether it’s for work, a celebration, or just to reconnect, eating out at a restaurant can be a common social occurrence for people. Rather than avoid going out, here are a few things you can do to feel the most prepared for eating away from your kitchen and your home-cooked meals.

Pick the Restaurant: If you have the option, offer to pick the restaurant. Do your research and look at the menu online to see if there are healthy options you can choose from and enjoy. Even if you want to indulge a bit, check for healthy side salads or vegetable sides to balance out foods you don’t enjoy every day.

Get all the Facts: When you’re at the restaurant, ask the server how the food is prepared so you can choose food that’s been prepared in the healthiest way. You can ask if anything is breaded or fried, steamed or baked, and what a food is sauteed in. Also look into what are in sauces or dressings to avoid any overly sugary or salty mixtures that could take your eating a little off balance. Also ask how large a plate is so you’re aware of how much you’re ordering.

Cut it in Half: If food portions and overeating is a concern, ask for your food to be split. If you’re at a sit-down restaurant, ask the server to immediately box half of it before it arrives at your table. If you’re at a casual restaurant (where you order at the counter), ask for your meal in two containers, one for now and one for later. You can also order two smaller appetizers as your main dish. This way you can feel the satisfaction of finishing your meal and get some variety.

Drink in Moderation: Our inhibitions lower with the more alcohol we consume and that can affect how much we eat. A study shows that moderate alcohol consumption prior to eating can lead to some overeating. If you continue drinking during your meal, the higher the chances are that you could overeat. Enjoy a drink if you like, but also know when it’s time to switch to water.

Eating at Social Event

Parties, whether they’re at an event space or at a friend’s house, are bound to serve food, and it may not always fit with your health and fitness goals. With a few tips, you can easily enjoy the event and the food with your goals intact.

Look into the Menu: If you’re going to a friend’s house, ask them what the menu is going to be that night. Ask if you can bring a healthy dish or appetizers that you can feel comfortable enjoying even if most people are eating food not aligned with your goals.

Eat before you go: If you’re not able to get a peek at the menu (usually the case for most events not run by friends), eat some healthy before hand and bring a small snack with you if possible. This way you could enjoy a few snacks if you wanted to, but there’s less of a chance of overeating due to extreme hunger or eating unhealthy because that’s all that’s there.

Only Eat What You Want: When eating amongst friends, there can be a pressure to eat everything that someone has prepared or provided. This pressure or “politeness” can hurt your goals more than they help your social standing. Eat what you want to eat, and don’t feel obligated to eat what doesn’t appeal to you or align with your goals.

Have a Game Plan: If this event also has a meal with several courses or stages of food, decide how much you want to eat. If you’re interested in trying every course, eat a smaller amount of each course so you don’t feel stuffed at the end. If you know there’s a dessert, adjust how much food you eat leading up to that.

Drink in Moderation: Events can be notorious for a lot of alcohol. Just like when you’re eating at a restaurant, keep tabs on how many drinks you’ve had and after a few, switch to water.

Eating on the Go

You’re bound to be running low on time and leave the house with a growling stomach and no snacks. Here are some tips on what to buy to avoid pulling into a drive thru.

Find a Grocery Store: A grocery store, especially a health-focused one, will have a lot of options to grab some food for right now or later in the day. If the store has a salad bar or prepared foods section, fill a to-go container with healthy options. Don’t forget to add some fiber and or protein to feel full for longer.

If the store doesn’t have that option in their store, you can create your own picnic with some smaller items like organic full-fat yogurt, a nut butter packet and a piece of fruit, a minimally processed nutrition bar, or a handful of nuts from the bulk bin section… There are lots of ways to get creative at the grocery store.

Find a Smoothie Place: Getting a smoothie from a juice bar at a grocery store or any smoothie shop is a great option if you’re out and about. Go for a smoothie with lots of greens to keep your sugar intake balanced out. You could even add a scoop of protein powder to make your smoothie more filling. If you go with that option, go with a smaller sized smoothie. The protein will fill you up faster without needing extra ounces of smoothie.

Find a Healthier Fast Casual Restaurant: Fast casual restaurants have becoming more and more popular these days, especially health-focused ones. Fast casual means you order from a counter, like a fast food restaurant, but the quality of food is higher and usually less processed.

Places like Chipotle, Lyfe Kitchen, Panera Bread, Veggie Grill, Tender Greens, sweetgreens are examples of fast casual restaurants. Look around to find healthy fast casual restaurants in your area so you know where to go when you’re hungry and out and about.

Things to Keep in Mind

Eating out can be fun, so don’t let any fears or concerns about eating super healthy make your experience less enjoyable. If you want to have something special that may be slightly less healthy, enjoy it. You can easily balance it out with some vegetables, and you also don’t have to eat all of that special food. You can always adjust your eating after that meal to be super healthful to balance it out as well.

While eating out, still try and check in with your hunger. If you’re feeling full but you’ve still got food in front of you, box it up, take it away, or move away from the food area so you’re less tempted to overeat.

No matter where you’re going to eat, remember to enjoy yourself!

Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on InstagramTwitter and Pinterest.

Second Photo Credit: Imagewell/; Third Photo Credit: Marian Weyo/; Fourth Photo Credit: Alliance/; Fifth Photo Credit: l i g h t p o e t/; Sixth Photo Credit: Pavel L Photo and Video/