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Simple, healthy tips for dining out

Dining out can be the ultimate temptation if you're on a diet or trying to eat healthy.

"Your will power is tested as soon as you get the menu and stare at all the options," says April Schetler, nutrition coordinator of Virtua's Center for Weight Management. "It's best to go in with a plan instead of salivating at the menu."

If you are on a diet or curbing your calories, then avoid foods that have the following descriptions:

  • Battered
  • Crispy
  • Fried
  • Creamy
  • Cheesy

Instead, opt for dishes that are:

  • Broiled
  • Grilled
  • Baked
  • Poached
  • Steamed

Schetler advises individuals to be inquisitive about the menu.

"Ask your waiter to exchange the fries for a side salad or exchange the mashed potatoes for a baked potato," she says. "Ask your waiter about the soups and sauces. If they're clear, then chances are they're good for you. If they are not translucent, then they are potential calorie bombs."

Below are some helpful tips when choosing menu options at the following establishments.

Italian restaurant

  • Avoid eating bread, breadsticks or rolls before your meal. They contain empty calories.

  • Order pizza with half the cheese. Don't believe that a white pizza with veggies is healthy. Many white pizzas are packed with a variety of calorie-loaded cheeses.

  • Select a chicken or fish dish that is grilled or baked; they are tasty and contain a lot of protein to keep you full.

  • Select an entree with the following sauces: wine, marinara, or pomidoro. Avoid sauces such as Alfredo, Bolognese or Corbonara.

  • Order whole wheat pasta, if it's available.

  • Be careful of entrees that are full of cheese such as ravioli, stuffed shells or lasagna.

  • Listen to your mother: Make sure to eat your vegetables. Ask for steamed vegetables instead of pasta as a side dish.

Mexican Restaurant

  • Avoid eating chips before your meal. You could save more than 200 calories.

  • Keep the sour cream and guacamole on the side. These are loaded with calories and fat. Order fresh salsa or pico de gallo instead.

  • Ask if your entrée could have less cheese - about half the amount.

  • Try a healthier option of grilled chicken fajitas with peppers and onions.

  • Ask for corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas.

  • Switch to bean burritos instead of beef or cheese burritos.

  • Stay away from chimichangas, enchiladas, chalupas, and taquitos.

Chinese Restaurant

  • Resist the urge to eat crispy noodles if they are placed on your table as a snack prior to your meal.

  • Choose clear soups such as egg drop, hot and sour and wonton.

  • Avoid popular dishes such as General Tso's, sesame chicken and orange chicken.

  • Don't select anything on the menu that says "fried," "crispy," or "sweet and sour." They are packed with fat and calories.

  • Ask your waiter if anything on the menu can be steamed, even if it is not indicated.

  • Ask for sauce on the side so that you can delegate how much to pour on your food.

  • Select brown rice instead of white rice and steamed rice instead of fried rice.

  • Avoid noodle-based dishes such as lo mein and chow mein, which are high in calories, saturated fat and sodium.

  • Choose a healthy entrée such as chicken and broccoli, shrimp with vegetables, Moo Goo Gai Pan (which has a clear sauce), shrimp with garlic sauce and stir-fried

  • Ask for extra vegetables. You could even substitute extra vegetables for rice or noodles.


  • Don't fill up on complimentary butter and rolls.

  • Avoid melts or open face sandwiches.

  • Watch out for comfort foods such as meatloaf, open-faced turkey sandwich or fried chicken, which aren't comforting to your diet.

  • Exercise portion control when your food arrives. Many diners give you mountains of fries and rivers of gravy. If the portions are huge, try to eat half and ask for a doggie bag for the other half.

  • Order dressing on the side when eating a salad.

  • Steer clear of the mashed potatoes. Order a baked potato or sweet potato instead.

  • Order grilled chicken sandwiches and wraps because they are healthy choices.

  • Ask for mustard instead of mayo.

  • Take half of the bread off of a club sandwich and ask for no mayo.

  • Opt for wheat bread or toast instead of white bread.

  • Have a cup of soup on the side. Soup is a better alternative than french fries or cole slaw, which could add hundreds of calories to your meal alone.

Receive nutrition counseling from an expert dietitian

Virtua's registered dietitians assist individuals of all ages in making healthier choices by developing a food plan tailored to their needs. A registered dietitian can design a food plan based on lifestyle, activity level, weight, medical history and more.

For more information about Virtua's Center for Weight Management, call 1-888-VIRTUA-3 (1-888-847-8823).



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