How To Order Healthy Choices From A Restaurant in 8 Steps

NOVA Bariatrics

How To Order Healthy Choices From A Restaurant in 8 Steps

Preparing your meals at home is the best way to maintain a healthy diet. By cooking your own meals, you are in complete control of every ingredient you use. You have the ability to cut out all the items that are not good for you. But, cooking meals at home takes time and some level of culinary skill. That reality is what causes even the best- intentioned people to order food from a restaurant. Often, that means pulling up to a drive-thru menu and grabbing a quick bite. Here’s the good news: you can order healthy choices from just about any place you can imagine. 

NOVA Bariatrics

Dr. Alibhai

With Dr. Alibhai’s training in minimally invasive and robotic surgery, he performs a wide range of general surgical procedures as well including:

  • Robotic Gallbladder surgery
  • Robotic hernia surgery
  • Acid Reflux surgery

Mustafa H. Alibhai,MD,FACS,FASMBS

Step 1. Preview the menu ahead of time

Whether you’re going to a dine-in restaurant or a fast food joint, you can get the menu before you go. Taking a look at the menu before you arrive allows you to plan your order in advance and control unhealthy impulses. Nearly every restaurant has a menu online. But, if you can’t find it, check out review apps like Yelp or Google where customers submit pictures of the menu. Look for menu items that are approved for your current diet. Then, don’t change your mind when you get to the restaurant. Even if you are going to a familiar fast food drive thru, you can still order healthy choices. Craving a burger and can’t shake it? Order it without mayonnaise, bacon or cheese; instead, use low calorie, fat free condiment alternatives like mustard. As an even better option, eat it without one or both buns.

Step 2. Look for whole foods

Whole foods are unprocessed and mostly unrefined. This means they are more simple in form and closer to their natural states. To make this easy, let’s look at a few examples:
Grilled chicken breast Cream of chicken soup
Blackened salmon Salmon burger patties
Fajita Steak Ground beef burger

In each example above, the whole food version undergoes a “process” to become the processed version. Food that is closer to its original form is less likely to have been altered with unhealthy additives. When browsing the menu, set your mind to order healthy choices that are in their whole foods form.

Step 3. Pass on the bread

So, here’s the thing about bread: it’s high in carbohydrates and low in nutrients. As a rule, when eating healthy, you want to stay away from anything that is high in fat or carbs but offers low nutritional value at the same time. While breads made with whole grains tend to have more beneficial vitamins and minerals, it’s low in protein and fiber. That causes digestion to slow down and contributes to weight gain. Bread is also high in sugar which can cause your insulin levels to spike. If you’re committed to ordering healthy choices, skip the bread.

Step 4. Hard pass on deep fried

Deep fried foods are high in calories and trans fat. As if the cooking process of immersing food in oil isn’t bad enough, most items are coated in batters made of flour, eggs, beer or heavy cream before they’re fried. Be aware that some restaurants cook items that would ordinarily be healthy by deep frying them. Even if you order healthy choices like broccoli or brussel sprouts, they’re bad for you if they’re deep fried. If in doubt about any item on the menu, ask your server for details on how it’s prepared.
Eat healthy at home too! Check out our 10 Diet Hacks for Eating Healthy on a Tight Budget (link name to blog) to learn how to do it without overspending.

Step 5. Ask for “skinny” alternatives

Because many people are more diet-conscious today, restaurants offer skinny options. Restaurant food tastes so good because it’s rich in fat. Skinny items give you the chef-prepared flavor you love without using butter, cheese, whole milk and heavy cream. Instead, they substitute those ingredients with items that are lower in fat and higher in nutritional value. In the end, you get to enjoy the same tasty items on the regular menu without the guilt.

Step 6. Order lunch portions – even at dinner time

Most restaurants don’t tell you that you can order off the lunch menu any time of day, but you can. Ordering off the lunch menu doesn’t mean you’ll order healthy options that are low in fat and carbs. Yet, it does mean you’ll get smaller portions. Portion control is a fantastic tool to reduce your calorie and fat intake for weight loss. You won’t always be able to get nutrition facts, but sticking to general rules about proper portion sizes can be very helpful. We recommend using a food scale and measuring cups to control serving size at home, but you can use the following tips when you’re eating out:
  • 3- 4 ounces of meat is approximately the size of a deck of cards
  • 1 cup of cooked rice or pasta is the size of a tennis ball
  • 2 tablespoons of salad dressing is roughly the size of a golf ball
  • 1 cup of just about anything is around the size of a woman’s fist

Step 7. Split your meal in half

This is another way to control your portions, especially if the lunch menu is off limits. Whether you order the full or lunch size of your meal, be mindful of how much is on your plate. Using the tips to visualize serving size above, cut your portions down to the right size. This is the easiest way to avoid the temptation to eat everything on your plate. Ask your server to bring out a to-go box with your meal. As soon as your food arrives, transfer the excess food to a to-go container and save it for your next meal. Connect with Dr. Mustafa Alibhai (link to contact us page) at NOVA Bariatrics for 24/7 access to Virtual Health Partners. This amazing app gives you unlimited access to food diaries, live consultations with nutritionists, support groups and more!

Step 8. Skip the dessert

There’s nothing on the average dessert menu that’s acceptable when ordering healthy choices from a restaurant. Dessert is filled with all the unhealthy things we mentioned earlier, like: sugar (calories), butter (fat), creams (more fat) and carbs (more sugar). If you’re like many people who crave something sweet after a savory meal, opt for a cup of coffee. says there’s approximately 15 calories in each standard packet of sugar. So, lightly sweeten it with 2 or 3 packs of sugar and a little non-fat milk instead of cream. Don’t like coffee? Ask your server for an after dinner mint instead.
Before beginning any diet or fitness routine, always consult a physician.
At Nova Bariatrics and Minimally-Invasive Surgery, we understand that weight loss and healthy living can be a daily struggle for many. With harness over experience and expertise to help those patients who have been unable to achieve significant weight loss through diet and modifications and exercise alone. Our team at NOVA works with each patient individually to find the appropriate solution for weight loss and restoration of one’s health. Contact us?
Disclaimer – The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as advice for any individual case or situation. All blogs are meant to be educational. We advise consulting with a professional before attempting anything written in a blog.