Eating healthy off the menu

Photo Credit: Courtesy of: Stronger Together

Sometimes we can’t avoid the fact that we have to eat out, especially while we’re traveling. We’re on the go, we’re driving to work and, in a rush, the family wants something quick to eat, or if you’re like me, you want to avoid the dishes that come from making a meal.

But, just because you are eating out or taking food home for dinner, it doesn’t mean you have to forget all about your health goals. It is possible to eat healthyish for take-out or sit-down restaurants. It is a fact that Americans actually spend more money on food from restaurants than groceries for the home! So, what can we do to make sure we are eating healthy when we are eating out?

The good news is that restaurants and take-out locations are starting to offer more healthy options. While it may not be as healthy as what we can make at home, every little bit helps when we are are busy, in a hurry and still want to eat healthy.

I have some quick tips you can think about when you are staring at a menu and fighting with your inner-self about trying to eat healthy.

First, choose the right restaurant that helps you stay healthy! There are some restaurants that offer healthier and tastier options at a good price. Find those restaurants and stick with them. If you aren’t sure which ones those are, take some time to look up the menu and make your decision way ahead of time to pre-plan your order. That way when you get there, you know exactly what you need to order to be healthy.

Second, the language of the menus can give you a clue about how healthy something is. For example, foods that are described as crispy, breaded, creamy, rich, smothered with cream sauce or gravy — all point to foods that have more calories or saturated fat. Words such as cured, marinated, smoked, teriyaki, soy sauce, or pickled tells you that it usually has more salt or sodium. Look for words like baked, grilled, cooked in its own juice, roasted, steamed, or stir-fried. These are healthier options.

Third, order it your own special way. At restaurants, the cooks can prepare your meal to fit your health goals. Ask the server or cashier to make changes to the food to make it healthier. Ask for no mayonnaise or cheese. Instead of the regular fries it comes with, get steamed vegetables or a side salad. Ask for no butter on your toast, pancakes, or waffles. Ask for sugar-free syrup. Also, if limiting portions is hard, request that a side order not come with the meal so it doesn’t give you a chance to eat it. For me, I love frybread when I eat it with stew. But sometimes I ask that they not include it when I go to roadside stands. I save that for special occasions. And always order water, diet soda, or low-fat milk for something to drink.

Finally, if you really just want to order your favorite meal, just order it and eat half! Sometimes you just have to get what you want, but save half for lunch the next day. All restaurant meals can actually serve two or three people, so why not save it for the next day for another meal? It saves money and you get to enjoy that food all over again! Request a to-go box right away when you get your food and pack it away before you start to eat your meal. That way you can save it before you eat all of it.

Over time is gets easier to order healthy foods from fast-food and sit-down restaurants. It takes practice, but it can be done. Don’t let being in a hurry mess up your health goals. You can do this!


Denee Bex is a Registered Dietitian and advocate for healthy traditional diets and home-grown foods within Native American communities.  She can be reached at


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