How to Order Healthy Choices at a Restaurant | NOVA Bariatrics and General Surgery

Oct 16, 2020

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.

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. Skip the fried foods

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. Healthy choices like broccoli or brussel sprouts have lower nutrient density if they are deep fried. When 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 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 meals.


At Nova Bariatrics and Minimally-Invasive Surgery, we understand that weight loss and healthy living can be a daily struggle for many. Our team at NOVA works with each patient individually to find the appropriate solution for weight loss and restoration of one’s health.

Dr. Mustafa H. Alibhai

Dr. Alibhai, a board-certified general surgeon, passionately leads Nova Bariatrics and General Surgery. Formerly an Assistant Professor at McGovern Medical School, he’s a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgeons. His academic journey includes a Bachelor’s from Southern Methodist University, Medical School at UT Southwestern, and residencies at UT Southwestern. Specializing further, he completed Bariatric and Robotic Fellowships, advancing surgical techniques with a focus on patient well-being.



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