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How can I order healthier dishes at restaurants?

Keep in mind that you can always ask your server about ingredients and cooking methods. You can also ask whether a particular dish can be prepared in a heart-healthier way. For example, many restaurants will be happy to prepare your meal without salt, steamed rather than fried, and with sauces, gravies, and dressings served “on the side.”
A good rule of thumb for choosing heart-healthy entrees: Choose foods in their simplest forms. For example, skinless chicken breast is a better choice than breaded chicken, and a broiled fish fillet is preferable to stuffed fish.
To make healthy choices at a restaurant, it helps to know a few cooking terms. These are clues about ingredients and preparation methods -- and help you make better selections from the menu.
Choose foods that are described as:
  • Steamed
  • In their own juice
  • Garden fresh
  • Broiled
  • Roasted
  • Poached
  • Dry broiled (in lemon juice or butter)
  • Lean
Avoid foods that are described as:
  • Buttery, buttered, in butter sauces
  • Creamed, in cream sauce, in their own gravy, hollandaise
  • Au gratin, parmesan, in cheese sauce, escalloped
  • Sautéed, fried, pan-fried, crispy, braised
  • Breaded, stuffed
  • En casserole, prime, hash, pot pie
  • Marinated (in oil), basted in butter or gravy, in brine
Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics

Here are some tips:

  • Before heading out to the restaurant, check the restaurant’s website for the nutrient information so you have a better idea of how to monitor your caloric intake.
  • Order a salad with the dressing on the side to help fill you up with lower calorie foods before the main course.
  • Sip on a 0 calorie beverage throughout the meal (water with fresh squeezed lemon or lime or a diet soda.
  • Ask your server on how the food is prepared (grilled, baked, sautéed, etc.).
  • Ask for sauces and dressings to be served on the side so you can control how much is poured on your dish.
  • Most importantly, remember you are the customer. You can request substitutions or modifications on the meal preparation, you just have to ask.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.