Restaurants are a convenient place to get food, a social experience with your friends, and sometimes a necessity when traveling. It can feel like going to a restaurant means the end of any health goals or nutritional progress, but this doesn’t have to be the case.

There will always be days when you eat at a restaurant or rely on convenience foods. Maybe you’re traveling, busy with work, too tired to cook your meal, or going out with friends. Food is an important part of life.

Many people rely on eating out for more than the occasional hangout or social gathering. If you hate cooking, have limited kitchen equipment or access, go out with friends often, or have a job that requires travel... chances are you eat at restaurants often, possibly for every meal.

The challenge is balancing being able to eat out at restaurants and while meeting your health goals. The default options at most of these places are generally bad, so being social or going out often feels like a big sacrifice or challenging decision. Fortunately, it is possible to eat at restaurants or fast-food chains and still take care of your health. It just takes a little planning and creativity.

This guide will help you navigate menus, entrees, and food choices of all types so you can feel confident that you’re ordering something that supports your goals while eating away from home. This guide is divided into two categories: “fast food” and “sit-down restaurants”. Both establishments should have decent options, if you’re willing to be creative and perhaps order something outside of your usual habits.

Choosing an Eatery

Use technology to your advantage, most restaurants have menus available online. Before you choose where to go, a quick internet search can help you narrow down which places are more likely to have options for an A (or B) meal.

Look for a meal that provides lean protein with some sort of vegetables for a safe bet. This could include something like...

  • A salad topped with chicken breast
  • Trout and steamed vegetables
  • Shrimp and vegetable stir-fry
  • Fajitas in a lettuce wrap

You can find healthy meals from many types of cuisines but you may find more success at Greek, Japanese, Mexican, Korean, or Spanish restaurants. You also can’t go wrong if you know the restaurant offers a high-quality salad bar or allows substitutions to meals like swapping white rice for black beans in certain dishes.

Tips for Eating Healthier at a Sit-down Restaurant

Plan Ahead: Scan online menus ahead of time so you have an idea of what to order before making a “heat of the moment” choice and regretting it later. Many menus have a few meals that are labeled as “healthier” or “lighter” options which might be a good place to start looking.

Don’t show up starving: Don’t let yourself get to the restaurant when you’re so hungry that you’re likely to overeat. Manage hunger levels throughout the day so that you’re satisfied with a normal portion.

Order water first: It sounds simple, but sipping on water before and during your meal can help prevent overeating while also ensuring you stay properly hydrated. It may also help reduce total calories, because most common beverages (soda, alcohol, fruit juice, etc.) apart from water will add many “empty” calories that aren’t providing a great source of nutrition — and can often cause a glucose spike as well.

Say no to “extras” Breadsticks, dinner rolls, chips and salsa, or other extras are easy to overconsume as you wait for your entrée to arrive. Even if they are “free,” there can be a cost on your health. Try not to add caloric beverages, appetizers, and desserts to your meal and stick to ordering an entrée only, it will make your efforts to eat healthy portions much easier

You could also choose just the one thing you are most excited about — whether it is a decadent entree or a healthy appetizer with a dessert. Main dishes are likely to be more nutritionally balanced, but for those with a sweet tooth or if it’s a special occasion having a salad and a dessert can still help keep the overall meal well balanced and within your calorie goals.

Hide half away: Food portions at restaurants tend to be much larger than anything we’d make for ourselves. Don’t get tricked into clearing your plate by asking for a box when your food arrives, then portioning out half of it to eat another day. You can also try splitting an entrée or dessert with a friend. A smaller portion of your entrée will give you an option to taste everything without adding on an excess amount of calories or sugar from an entire large portion.

On the side, please: Ask for your condiments to be served on the side. Condiments like mayo, sauces, salad dressings, butter, sour cream, tend to be the most caloric parts of the meal. By opting for your dressings to be served on the side you can control how much you eat. You can skip condiments altogether and ask for olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the side to dress the food yourself.

Preparation Methods: Scan the menu for words like steamed, grilled, roasted, boiled, or poached. These are the healthiest cooking methods as they avoid any extra fat added during cooking. Avoiding things that are labeled as pan-fried, fried, crispy, sauteed, tempura, or crunchy generally means the food has been breaded and/or cooked in processed oils.

Don’t be shy: Ask for healthier food swaps. After all, you’re paying for your meal! You should get to choose exactly what you eat. Instead of an order of chips or fries, try asking for an extra portion of vegetables, a side salad, or a broth-based soup. These options will be more filling, nutrient-rich, and lower in calories than chips or fries. If ordering pasta, ask if they will swap a cream or cheese-based sauce for a tomato sauce instead.

End on a high note: You might be tempted to grab a rich dessert after choosing a healthy meal, instead, opt for a fresh mint tea (peppermint supports healthy digestion) or another type of herbal tea or unsweetened coffee (including decaf) to finish off your meal. Very often you’ll be full from choosing a healthy meal and won't really need dessert. which tends to be high in sugar and empty calories anyway. If you do choose to eat dessert, opt for a sorbet, yogurt, or fruit salad, rather than a cake or custard. Or you can order your favorite dessert to share with friends, so you get a small bite but not the impact of a whole portion.

Tips for Eating Healthier at a Fast Food Restaurant

In a pinch, you might need to rely on fast food, and in some cases... it’s going to be from a fast-food menu that seems completely devoid of healthful options. In that scenario, might we offer a few tips:

Can it wait? Decide if you *really* need to eat immediately, or if you can wait an extra hour (or skip this meal and start your fast early) until you’re able to find or make something else that really fits your needs and health goals.

Not all-or-nothing: Don’t get stuck in the “well it’s already this bad” mentality. Going for the occasional greasy burger isn’t going to set you back much, usually around 500-700 calories. But tacking on some fries and a soda (or milkshake) to go along with it and you’re looking at nearly a full day's worth of calories in a single meal. And remember, calories are only one of the many metrics to consider in your nutrition score.

Example: At McDonald's...

Deluxe Quarter Pounder with Cheese (630 Cal)

Chocolate Shake (520 Cal)

Large Fries (490 Cal)

Total: 1,640 Calories!

Avoid liquid sugars: Any added in sugar can have a negative impact on your health, but sugar in liquid forms can be especially damaging since they are metabolized so quickly. Ultra-processed forms like high-fructose corn syrup found in sodas should be avoided, as well as other types of sugar in drinks like coffee or tea.

Less Processing: A burger or sandwich can be made a little healthier by skipping the high-calorie, processed condiments like mayonnaise, bacon, or American cheese. Stick to healthier meats like chicken or ground beef in your sandwich and choose mustard, hot sauce, and other less-processed condiments

Customize Condiments: If you can’t give up mayo or other favorite sauces, ask for condiments to be given to you on the side so you can add as much as you like, usually much less than they load onto your food without you knowing, helping you reduce overall calories in an easy way.

Remove A Bun or Two: Removing one of the buns/slices of bread or asking if they’ll wrap your burger or sandwich in extra lettuce instead of a bun, can save you 100-350 calories of refined carbohydrates and help you have a higher protein-per-calorie meal!

Go “Grilled”: Asking for grilled entrees instead of fried or “crispy” can save an additional 100 calories and help you cut back on unhealthy fats.

Example: Ordering At Chick-fil-A...

Crispy Chicken Sandwich (440 Cals, 17g of fat)

Grilled Chicken Sandwich (320 Cals) 6g of fat)

Difference: 120 Cals and 11 grams of fat

Eat Mindfully: Make sure you are setting aside time to eat your “fast” food slowly. Eating while driving, working, or otherwise distracted can lead to overconsumption of calories as you scarf down your food without listening to fullness signals.

Use technology: If you are road tripping, search for healthier eateries along your route. If you have a flight planned, see which restaurants are available at your layover destination. A quick internet search can be really useful in helping you navigate your food environment.

Selecting Healthy Food from Different Menus:

Typical fast food options like burgers and burritos aren’t the only option anymore, as more companies are recognizing the draw for healthier, convenient options. Common chains like Chipotle, Chick-fil-a, and Subway have great menu items for people that are looking to eat a little healthier.

Here are some suggestions for ordering better meals from different types of fast food establishments...

Burger Places

What to order

1. Order 1/4-1/3 pound lean beef, bison, turkey, or salmon burgers. This ensures you’re getting an adequate portion of protein to keep you full and satisfied, without overdoing it on fat content or calories.

2. See if they offer burgers wrapped in lettuce, or remove just the top bun yourself This can help you reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates, while also lowering the total calories in the meal and adjusting the macronutrient balance.

3. Load the burger with veggies (lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions) or add a side salad Vegetables aren’t just a low-calorie strategy for filling you up, they also add beneficial nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals to your meal. Eating leafy greens and antioxidant-rich tomatoes can also balance out the inflammatory parts of your meal (meat, oil, and refined carbohydrates) to help prevent chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease. **

What to Avoid

1. Burgers with bacon or extra cheese This adds unnecessary calories to your meal while also increasing the level of processing. Bacon, sausage, and other processed meats contain nitrates, salt, and saturated fatty acids, ingredients that promote disease. American cheese, the most common cheese used in fast foods, is a processed cheese that is higher in sodium and sugar, and lower in protein than other varieties of cheese like cheddar or swiss. An extra slice of cheese is an extra 100 calories of fat and processed ingredients.

2. Ordering a side of fries or onion rings Not only are fried foods high in calories, but they are high in omega 6, saturated fats and trans fats, which can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. When oils are reused over and over for frying, which is the case in fast-food restaurants, fats break into smaller and more damaging fragments, which can result in the food absorbing more oil and compounding the negative effects. These types of fats are very different than the same calories from olive oil or whole foods. **

3. Soda, shakes, or other sweetened beverages A soda, shake, or other caloric beverage will add extra calories and sugar to your meal without providing any nutritive value like fiber or vitamins. A high proportion of sugar in a meal can also overload your blood sugar, making you feel sluggish, tired, or even hungry again a few hours later.


Recommended Orders

  • Hamburger (try eating “open-faced” by discarding the top bun)
  • Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad (try using half the dressing)
  • Egg McMuffin or Eggwhite Delight Muffin
  • Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich Ask for mayo or dressings on the side, try to use only what you need

Burger King

Recommended Orders

  • Plain burger
  • Cheeseburger
  • Jr whopper


  • Applesauce


Recommended Orders

  • Southwest avocado salad (try to use less dressing)
  • Apple pecan salad
  • Parmesan chicken Caesar salad
  • Grilled Asiago Ranch Chicken Club (no sauce)
  • Jr hamburgers


  • Chili
  • Apple bites
  • Baked potato

Chicken Places

What to order

  • Look for grilled chicken sandwiches or wraps These will provide the same amount of protein, for a fraction of the calories and fat!
  • Try a grilled chicken salad or side-salad if available Adding vegetables to your meals will fill you up without many calories, they also add beneficial nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals to your diet.
  • Look for vinaigrette or olive oil-based dressings instead of creamy (mayo-based) dressings and dipping sauces. Vinegar and olive oil are healthy, whole food ingredients that add flavor to your meal. Creamy dressings like ranch or mayo-based dipping sauces contain processed vegetable oils, sugar, or other processed ingredients that are inflammatory and contribute to chronic disease.

What to avoid

  • Fried (crispy) chicken or chicken nuggets Not only are fried foods caloric, but they are also high in trans fats and omega 6, which can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. **
  • A side of fries, soda, or a shake These common addons are just adding extra calories without providing any nutritive value or health benefit. Furthermore, fried foods, soda, and desserts are highly processed foods that can increase your risk of many chronic diseases when eaten regularly, so the downside is more than just the additional calories. *****


Recommended Orders

  • Grilled nuggets
  • Grilled chicken sandwich
  • Grilled chicken cool wrap (skip ranch or creamy dressing)
  • Market salad with grilled chicken
  • Spicy southwest salad with grilled chicken
  • Cobb salad with grilled chicken
  • Egg-white Grill (breakfast sandwich)


  • Fat-Free Honey Mustard Dressing
  • Light Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing
  • Lemon Caesar Vinaigrette Dressing
  • Light Italian Dressing

Coffee Shops

What to order

  • Tea, black coffee, or a latte (can use cow’s milk, or unsweetened almond, soy, or oat milk) These are the lowest calorie options (black coffee and tea contain little to no calories at all) while also being low in sugar and other processed ingredients. These are a great way to kick a caffeine craving without the extra blood sugar spike that will leave you feeling sluggish and wanting more sugar shortly after drinking.
  • Vegetable omelets or egg bites, skip the processed meats (bacon, sausage) Eggs are very filling and nutrient-rich. When you pair them with vegetables like spinach or tomatoes you add extra nutrients. As mentioned earlier, it’s best to avoid nitrate-rich processed meats.
  • A breakfast sandwich on whole-grain bread or English muffin (instead of croissants or biscuits) Croissants, biscuits, or other bread made with refined flour and butter add a lot of calories without any fiber or protein to help you stay full. Ordering an egg sandwich on fiber-rich bread made from whole wheat will balance your blood sugar and help you stay full for hours, without the extra calories.
  • Ask for a side of fresh fruit Fruit is a great side dish, it can help curb a sweet tooth with a healthier source of natural sugar packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

What to Avoid

  • Drinks with added syrups or whipped cream Many sweetened beverages found at coffee shops contain high amounts of sugar and cream, making them similar to eating dessert, in fact, some drinks contain more fat, sugar, and calories than eating a cookie.
  • Pastries or baked goods Many pastries are loaded with sugar and refined flours that spike your blood sugar and lack satiating nutrients like fiber or protein that balance your meal and promote healthier blood sugar levels. As another downside, bakery items can contain trans-fatty acids from shortening to improve texture and shelf life. These fats should be avoided as they contribute to heart disease. *


Recommended Meals

  • Spinach, feta & egg white wrap
  • Egg bites Roasted red pepper or kale and mushroom are lower in calories than the bacon and gruyere option
  • Turkey, bacon, and egg white sandwich
  • Bacon, gouda & egg sandwich
  • Panini sandwiches
  • Protein boxes
  • Protein bowl

Recommended Drinks

  • Black coffee or unsweetened teas
  • Lattes with milk, almond milk, or soy milk.

What to Avoid

  • Drinks with added syrups or whipped cream Many sweetened beverages found at coffee shops contain high amounts of sugar and cream, making them similar to eating dessert, in fact, some drinks contain more fat, sugar, and calories than eating a cookie.
  • Pastries or baked goods Many pastries are loaded with sugar and refined flours that spike your blood sugar and lack satiating nutrients like fiber or protein that balance your meal and promote healthier blood sugar levels. As another downside, bakery items can contain trans-fatty acids from shortening to improve texture and shelf life. These fats should be avoided as they contribute to heart disease. *

Mexican Food

What to Order

1. Try a “burrito bowl” or salad instead of using a tortilla Burrito bowls and salads use lettuce as a base instead of a tortilla which is made of refined flours and oils. This swap can save you up to 200 calories! If your burrito bowl comes with rice, try swapping white rice with brown rice or opting for beans instead. This will provide more filling fiber and protein to keep you satisfied for hours.

2. Ask for extra lettuce, tomatoes, beans, and sautéed veggies These foods give you the most nutrient bang for your buck. They contain antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals that support good health and fill you up while providing minimal calories.

3. Add pico, salsa, guacamole, and hot sauce to add flavor These are great, healthy foods that will provide many nutrients to your meal without any processed ingredients.

What to Avoid

  • Chips, crispy taco shells, chimichangas, and other fried options Not only are fried foods caloric, but they are also high in saturated and trans fats, which can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. **
  • Sour cream, nacho cheese, ranch, or cream sauces These condiments contain a high proportion of unhealthy fats which also provide a lot of unnecessary calories to your meal.


Recommended Orders

  • Salad
  • Burrito bowl
  • Lifestyle bowl


  • Extra veggies (greens, or fajita mix)
  • Black or pinto beans
  • Lean meats (chicken, steak, barbacoa)
  • Guacamole
  • Salsa (any variety)

Taco Bell

Recommended Orders

  • Fresco Soft Taco (chicken or beef)
  • Burrito Supreme (chicken or steak)
  • Power Bowl (skip the tortilla)
  • Bean Burrito
  • Grilled Breakfast Burrito
  • 7-layer burrito “fresco style”
  • Order Entrees fresco style (fresh pico in place of cheese, sour cream, and cream sauces)

Condiments and Sides

  • Hot sauce
  • Guacamole
  • Side of black beans

Sandwich Shops

What to order

1. Order whole grain bread or wraps, or skip the bread altogether and ask for your toppings on a bed of lettuce Whole grains contain the most fiber, protein, and nutrients. They are far more filling and are lower in processed ingredients like refined flours. If you are trying to cut back on carbs, try eating your sandwich “open-faced” or removing the bread altogether (essentially eating a salad).

2. Choose lean meats like chicken, turkey, or roast beef These meats will have the most protein bang for your buck and are lower in fat and calories than other varieties like sausage or bologna.

3. Add vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, onion, even pickles to add flavor and extra nutrients

4. Choose mustard, avocado, vinaigrettes, or simply olive oil and vinegarl Less-processed condiments will be better for you than the ultra-processed flavors

What to avoid

1. Mayo, processed cheese, or other processed additions Processed cheeses like American cheese contain more salt and sugar and less protein than other cheese varieties (like swiss or cheddar). Mayo and other creamy dressings are ultra-processed foods that may contribute to weight gain and really aren’t adding any nutritional benefit to your meal. *

2. Pre-made chicken salad, tuna salad, and other mayo-based recipe These “salads” are misleading as they contain far more mayo than you would normally add to your own sandwich. They can be extremely caloric, but aren’t any more filling than choosing a sandwich with plain chicken or turkey instead.

3. High fat, processed Italian meats like salami or sausage These meats are processed with high amounts of salt and other unwanted ingredients like nitrates or sugar. Nitrates are known carcinogens and increase your risk of heart disease. **


Recommended Orders

1. Choose the 9-grain wheat bread, mini bread, or avoid the carbs altogether by ordering a salad. Avoid the paninis, wraps

2. Add a lower-fat protein like roasted chicken, turkey breast, roast beef, Avoid melted cheese subs, meatball subs, Italian meats, tuna sub

3. Add as many veggies as possible

Recommended condiments

  • Olive oil and vinegar
  • Mustard, honey mustard, or deli mustard
  • Guacamole or avocado

Pizza Places

What to order

1. Order thin crust if available This will help you reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates so that your meal is more balanced and filling... without being as high in calories.

2. Try ordering with half cheese Another way to reduce calories that don’t provide many nutrients, skimping on the cheese (high in salt and fat) is a great way to make your meal a little healthier.

3. Order slices with chicken, sardines, lean beef, or Canadian bacon These will provide you will more filling protein, without as much fat or nitrates that are found in other processed Italian meats.

4. Ask for extra veggies (peppers, olives, spinach, artichoke, etc) or order a side salad Vegetables are a low-calorie way to fill you up. They also add beneficial nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals to your meal to help prevent chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease. **

What to avoid

1. Stuffed crusts, deep dish, or extra cheese These will add more calories without much nutritive value. Extra cheese and refined flours in the crust are highly caloric and processed foods that are more likely to cause weight gain if eaten frequently. *

2. Pepperoni, sausage, or bacon These meats are typically overprocessed, with high amounts of salt and other unwanted ingredients like nitrates or sugar. Nitrates are known carcinogens and increase your risk of heart disease. **

3. Cream sauces (ranch, alfredo, etc) These are more caloric and higher in saturated fats than tomato-based sauces, which contain far fewer calories and provide more nutrients, like the antioxidant lycopene.

Gas Station or Convenience Stores

What to buy

  • Pick up a single-serve hummus and precut veggies
  • Whole fruit (great with a packet of nut butter or string cheese)
  • Hard-boiled eggs (usually found next to deli sandwiches)
  • Lower-calorie popcorn (skinny pop, boom Chicka pop) Popcorn is a whole grain and can be a convenient, filling option when you’re on the go. Just be wary of brands that contain a lot of oil or sugar, make sure you compare nutrient labels for the best product.
  • Plain nuts (not candy-laden trail mixes) or sunflower seeds
  • High-quality protein bar (20g protein or more) Check ingredient lists to find products with fewer processed ingredients like sugar. While protein bars aren’t a complete meal, they can help you eat a source of protein in a pinch.
  • Pre-made protein shakes or Fairlife milk Quality protein can be hard to find when you’re on the go, a protein drink can help you eat a more balanced, filling meal. Check ingredient lists to find a product with less sugar and processed ingredients.

What to avoid

  • Chips, crackers, pretzels These foods are easy to overconsume, they are made with refined flours and processed oils. They don’t provide many beneficial nutrients and won't help you stay full for very long.
  • cookies, candy, caramel popcorn Sugar provides calories without any beneficial nutrients. It also wreaks havoc on your blood sugar which may lead to insulin resistance and other complications if you regularly consume high amounts of sugar. *
  • Donuts or other pastries Pastries are made of sugar, refined flours, and unhealthy fats...a perfect combination to promote overeating and possible weight gain. They don’t fill you up for long and don’t contain any beneficial nutrients like fiber, so they really aren’t worth the calories.
  • Soda, juice, slushies, sweetened beverages Liquid sugar is even more detrimental to your system as it is absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly, promoting metabolic disease and obesity *
  • Processed meats like hot dogs or meat sticks

Asian Places

What to order

  • 1. Go easy on the rice: Ask for a half portion of steamed rice, and order brown rice if it’s offered. You can also skip the rice altogether, and ask for more veggies instead.
  • 2. Ask for extra vegetables
  • 3. Order lean meat like chicken, fish, lean pork or beef
  • 4. Sauce on the side Many sauces can be high in sugar, so you may want to ask for sauce on the side. Then add as much as you’d like. You can also stick to soy sauce, coconut aminos, fresh lime juice, and hot sauce for a lower-sugar option.

What to Avoid

  • Fried rice or meats (like breaded chicken or pork) Fried in extra oil, you’re getting a lot more fat and calories in your meal than if you just stuck with steamed rice. The processed oils used in frying are also a source of unhealthy fat that can contribute to heart disease.
  • Entrees in a “sweet” sauce Orange chicken, sweet and sour sauce, sweet Thai chili sauce, or Thai peanut sauce contain a lot of sugar. When combined with white rice, your meal will become unbalanced with a really high proportion of processed carbohydrates.

Panda Express

Recommended Orders

  • String bean chicken breast
  • Mushroom chicken
  • Broccoli Beef
  • Tangy Shrimp
  • Extra mixed veggies

Smoothies and Juice Bars

What to order

  • 1. Order a small or kid-size Remember that a smoothie is a treat, not a balanced meal or a health food to be eaten on its own. Smoothies and juices are simply carbohydrates. Too many carbohydrates in the meal without fiber, protein, fat, or other blood-sugar balancing nutrients cause blood sugar to spike and crash, resulting in possible weight gain and hunger shortly after eating.
  • 2. Look for drinks that contain vegetables, like spinach or carrots, in the smoothie and low sugar fruits like kiwi, berries, grapefruit, or melon
  • 3. Add a shot of protein, flaxseed, chia seeds or other low-carb additions to help balance out the carbohydrates
  • What to Avoid:

  • 1. Smoothies made with sorbet or fruit juice These ingredients add extra sugar to your beverage, and set you up for a blood sugar spike because they lack any fiber, protein, fat, or the other blood-sugar balancing nutrients expected in a balanced meal.