Are you an absolute superstar adhering to your nutrition strategy and losing weight when you’re making all of your food at home, but trying to order a meal at a restaurant makes you feel panicked, overwhelmed, or defeated? You’re not alone! Many of my nutrition clients struggle feeling confident eating outside of their normal routine and finding goal-oriented foods at restaurants (or special events like parties, barbeques, or on the go). Never fear! I’ve got 3 techniques for you to use that will help you feel confident in your choices when you’re eating outside of your nutrition norm.

First Things First: What’s Your Calorie Budget?

Do you have a calorie budget you’re sticking to every day (and week) that is showing you scale progress? If you’re not familiar with how weight loss works, let me give you a simple rundown.

In order to see progress on the scale (i.e. weight loss) you need to be taking in less calories than you’re expending on a daily basis. It doesn’t really matter what foods you’re eating, or which specific diet plan (i.e low carb/Paleo/Keto) you’re following, if you’re not in a caloric deficit you will not see weight loss happen.

To learn a little more about how your calorie budget works from a daily perspective versus a weekly perspective, check out my recent blog about how your weekend calories could be affecting your weight loss goals.

What to Know About Food Prep at Restaurants

Oftentimes, restaurants will use more fats (oil, butter, etc.) while cooking than you would. That’s what makes the food taste so delicious! Also, the portion size of meals (unless you’re eating at a very fancy restaurant with multi-course menus) are likely significantly larger than what you truly need for your calorie budget. Don’t be afraid to ask for a to-go box!

The Mayo Clinic has a great quick read that talks more specifically about hidden calories in restaurant food – go check it out!

The Strategies:

  1. Save up and bank away calories for later through intermittent fasting or limiting your calories at other meals.
  2. Knowing what foods to gravitate towards when you’re ordering or building your plate.
  3. Share an appetizer or dessert, and enjoy a taste or a small bite.

Reserving or Banking Calories for Later

If you know that you’ll be headed to a restaurant later on for dinner, plan to start your day with a protein shake and fresh fruit instead of oatmeal, eggs and toast, yogurt with granola, etc. Lunch should be focused on lean protein, and accompanied by fresh veggies or a green salad (be sure to skip the dressing). Staying hydrated, or sipping on zero-calorie drinks like hot tea and coffee, La Croix, or Coke Zero will help your mind stave off the hunger.

If you know where you will be going out to eat, look at the menu ahead of time to determine what you’ll plan to order so you can plan the rest of the day’s nutrition around that meal. I like using My Fitness Pal to help me keep track of my nutrition/calorie intake, and it allows me to plan out my daily ‘menu’ so that I am sure to adhere to my calorie budget and macronutrient goals.

You can even start reserving calories throughout the week if you are thinking ahead to your Friday night date, sometimes this strategy works better for clients who are already working with a small daily calorie budget and don’t want to feel overly hungry leading up to sitting down at the restaurant. If you know that sticking to your goals might be more difficult when you’re hungry (or feeling deprived), make sure you eat a small high protein snack (like 1oz. of beef jerky) 30 minutes before heading out to the restaurant.

What Foods Should You Order at a Restaurant

Well, it might be easier to first talk about the menu items you should probably not order if you’re trying to make mindful nutrition choices at restaurants. Most are pretty obvious… Any protein that has been fried, breaded, or covered in a cheese sauce is going to be one of the highest calorie options on the restaurant’s menu. 

The same thing applies to your starchy carbohydrates and veggies like potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, jalapenos, etc. French fries and chips are delicious, but one of the foods that are super easy to over-consume and will significantly impact your calorie budget. Noodle dishes are another calorie-dense choice, order the pad thai, but put most of it in a to-go box (the portions at Thai, Chinese, Korean restaurants are actually meant to be shared family-style).

Now that we know which food items to be aware of on most restaurants’ menus, let me tell you what you should be ordering. Look for lean protein first – grilled or roasted chicken and steamed/baked/grilled fish are going to be the most calorie-friendly options, and won’t have as many added (hidden) calories during prep and cooking. 

Looking for simply-prepared meals, or swapping out the starchy carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, etc.) for a side salad or fresh veggies will help you feel good about your plate when it arrives. Asking for sauces and dressing on the side will allow you to decide how much additional carbs and fats you want to consume.

Dinner for Two? Share an Appetizer or Dessert

When eating out at a restaurant with your spouse, bestie, or in a small group, sharing an appetizer or dessert will help you to not overindulge or stray too far off your calorie mark. You’ll still be able to take a few bites of a higher calorie appetizer or dessert without feeling guilty about not finishing it all yourself. By depriving or restricting yourself entirely from ordering that delicious dessert (that you wouldn’t find anywhere else or make on your own), you’re more than likely setting yourself up for failure and perpetuating the diet mentality of good food versus bad food, on diet versus off diet, etc. This can lead to a poor relationship towards food and disordered eating habits.


Remember, one meal (or a few extra bites of dessert)  isn’t going to make or break your progress (maintaining consistency is key to meaningful change).

Do you want to find out how to eat the foods you like, while still reaching your weight loss goals? Our nutrition program aims to help our clients develop healthy habits for LIFE – no more on diet/off diet, and restricting yourself.

Let me help you figure out how to make the foods you like work within your budget. It all starts with an email to [email protected] and a coach will be in contact with you soon to help you start your health and fitness journey.

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