Dining Out Doesn’t Mean Ditching Your Diet

Dining out this holiday season? The American Heart Association offers these tips to help people make healthy choices, even when dining out. The Association’s “Healthy For Good” campaign encourages people to make the healthy choice the default choice for heart health. A nutritious diet including an abundance of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean meats and fish can help prevent heart disease and stroke, according to the AHA.

“While cooking at home with healthy ingredients can help keep your healthy diet on track, we know how hectic life is, and sometimes cooking at home just isn’t an option,” said Ellie Savoy, Board Certified Holistic Health Coach, “But there are healthy options when dining out. Many restaurants now offer delicious meals and menu items that are better for your health.”

“Planning is a great friend in today’s world of go, go, go. A great tip to prevent over-eating is to have a healthy snack and a glass of water ahead of time,” said Savoy, author of “Stop Dieting Start Living,” provided a healthy supermarket shopping tour for the AHA’s BetterU Challengers this summer.

BetterU, sponsored by Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation, is a 12-week healthy lifestyle challenge aimed at preventing heart disease and stroke through simple lifestyle changes like exercising more and eating healthier.

“I usually try to find someplace that offers healthy choices like salads and fish. Even if it’s someplace known for decadence, I’ll order an appetizer like steamed clams or mussels with a side salad, instead of an entrée. Then I keep within my lifestyle diet without worry,” said BetterU “Spirit Award Winner” Emily Darrow, who dropped five dress sizes, 30 pounds and 23 inches as a result of lifestyle changes made during the BetterU program.

Try these additional tips from the American Heart Association for healthier meals when dining out this holiday season.

Search it. Look up the menu online and decide what you want before you go. Lots of restaurants and fast food chains now have nutrition information on their websites.

Look for clues. The menu may have “healthy” designations or symbols, or key words in the names of some items (like light, fresh, fit, vegetarian, skinny, and so on) which indicate they could be a better choice.

Label it healthy. If you’re dining at a fast food restaurant, read the menu labels and nutrition facts while in line. Be on the lookout for choices that have high calories, sodium and fat. Many places have options for healthier sides, even in kids meals.

Have it your way. Ask the server or even the chef about ingredients, preparation methods, or substitutions. Ask for a small salad instead of fries or ask for a few vegetables from the menu as your main dish. Ask for no added butter, less added salt, or low-fat milk instead of cream.

Just say no.
 Resist the upsell and freebies. Cocktails and appetizers can be tempting, but just remember they can add fat, sodium, sugar and calories that you don’t need, and they can be expensive. When you sit down, tell your server to hold the complimentary bread and butter, or chips and salsa, and ask for water.

Color your plate. The kiddie crayons on the table aren’t the only way to add color to your meal! Look for colorful fruits and vegetables you can add as sides or substitutes for other ingredients in your dish.

Check your oil. Ask about butter, solid fats and cooking oils used in the kitchen, and request that healthier nontropical vegetable oils be used instead. Swap the bad fats for healthy ones your body actually needs!

Keep it on the side. Request that butter, cheese, toppings, salad dressings, sauces and gravies be served on the side so you control how much you use.

You can half it all. If the portions are large, share an entrée or set aside half to take home before you start eating. Split “indulgences” like appetizers, fries and desserts. Don’t supersize it, rightsize it.

Sweet to the end. If you’ve saved calories for dessert, look for fruit-based ones, sorbets or sponge cakes. Share a dessert with a friend to half the calories!

Here are some easy swaps that will help you make the healthy choice:


  • bacon, sausage & fatty, salty meats
  • white bread, rice and pasta
  • cream-based or cheese soups
  • deep-fried, pan-fried, extra crispy, creamed, stuffed
  • French fries
  • refried beans
  • sour cream, queso
  • salty sauces like soy, teriyaki, cocktail, au jus
  • all-you-can-eat, supersize, buffet
  • traditional desserts, cookies, ice cream
  • soda, sweet tea, sugary cocktails


  • skinless chicken, fish, lean meat
  • whole-grain bread, rice and pasta
  • broth-based soup with lots of veggies
  • grilled, sautéed, roasted, steamed, baked, poached
  • baked potato or side salad
  • pintos or black beans
  • guacamole, pico de gallo
  • light sauces flavored with herbs, spices, vinegar, wine
  • a la carte, light menu, salad bar
  • fresh fruit and fruit-based desserts
  • water, 100% juice, diet soda, seltzer, spritzers

Be prepared to eat healthier when you go out to eat. Healthy choices can be found if you know what to look for and how to ask. Learn more at www.heart.org.


# # #



About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke –  the two leading causes of death in the world. We team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies, and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases. The Dallas-based association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. To learn more or to get involved, call 1-800-AHA-USA1, visit heart.org or call any of our offices around the country. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Leave a Comment