How to Navigate a Restaurant Menu (From a Registered Dietitian)

How to Navigate a Restaurant Menu (From a Registered Dietitian)

Whether it’s a Friday night dinner with family or friends, a business lunch, or takeout from your favorite restaurant, eating out can and should be part of a balanced lifestyle.

While it’s true that most restaurant meals are full of fat and sodium, there are ways to navigate the menu and make your meals aligned with your health goals. Check out these tips below: 

Do Your Research

Most restaurants have their menu posted on their website, and some may even have the nutritional information for each menu item as well. Looking at the menu beforehand will help you to make smarter choices while you’re at the restaurant. You might be surprised at the amount of calories, fat and sodium that are in certain dishes… especially the ones that seem the “healthiest”!

Pay Attention to Preparation Methods

Menu terms that can mean more fat and calories include batter-fried, pan-fried, buttered, creamed, crispy, and breaded. Limit these items! On the other hand, menu terms that can mean less fat and calories include baked, braised, broiled, grilled, poached, roasted, and steamed.

Prioritize Fruits & Veggies

Include fruits and veggies in your meal by adding a side salad, replacing an unhealthier side with fruit or veggies, asking your server to add more veggies to your dish, and/or choosing fruit for a dessert.

Watch Your Drinks

Calories from soft drinks, sweetened iced tea, lemonade, wine, beer and sweet alcoholic drinks like piña coladas can quickly add up and can become more calories than your actual meal! Additionally, alcohol can increase your appetite and provides calories without any nutrients. Opt for water, unsweetened tea, or seltzer.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

Almost any restaurant will switch up a recipe to accommodate a customer. Simply ask your server to put dressings on the side, exclude or add certain items to your meal, and ask for healthier recommendations. You can also ask the server to not place chips/bread on your table or pack half of your meal to-go before it’s served!

Remember: One salad won’t make you healthy just like one milkshake won’t make you unhealthy, it’s about what you choose MOST of the time. Be mindful and use the tips above to make smarter choices when dining out.


Maryann Walsh, MFN, RD, CDE
Registered Dietitian/ Consultant