How To: Navigate a Restaurant Menu Like a Pro

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Going out to eat is fun!  Sadly though, we all know that most restaurant meals are full of fat and sodium - even the salads!  The problem is, how can we be social without the occasional meal out?!

I run in to this a lot, especially when I'm on the road at a horse show or down on Cape Cod for the weekend with Ryan.  Below are a few tips on how to navigate a menu like a pro and still stay on track with your healthy eating routine.

1.  Research ahead of time.

Most restaurants have their menus on their website, so it's best if you can look at that ahead of time.  If you're starving when you arrive at the restaurant, chances are you might order something you'll regret later.  Planning ahead gives you the chance to pick the healthiest items.  You'll be surprised at the amount of calories, fat and sodium that are in certain dishes - especially the ones that seem the lightest.

The keywords to look for on a menu:

baked, broiled, steamed and grilled.

These words indicate less butter and oil during the cooking process.


2.  If you are going to order an appetizer, avoid anything with the words "fried" or "cheesy".

If there's something on the appetizer menu that you just can't live without, go ahead and order the dish then split an entree - portions are out of control at restaurants so this will still give you plenty of food.

3.  The bread basket.

Ah yes, the infamous bread basket.  Who can resist a perfectly warmed bread roll with perfectly soft butter perfectly spread on that perfect bread?  Like that thought?  Here's my rule of thumb:  If the bread is legit and the butter is soft, have a a little.  If the bread is cold and the butter was just cut from an iceberg in Antarctica, take a pass, it's really not worth fighting with the butter to spread in weird little chunks over your semi-stale piece of bread.

3 1/2.  The chips and salsa at the Mexican restaurant.

Whoever decided to give out free chips and salsa at those places is a evil, dirty genius.  Try to avoid over-doing this - share the basket with others and skip the refills.  Sticking to salsa is best - avoid the guacamole or cheese sauces.

4.  Big portions = big trouble.  

There are a few places I know and love that give ridiculous portions and if I let myself, I'll eat the whole thing and then be sad for the next five hours thinking how full I am.  I recommend asking for a box to put half your entree in at the beginning of the meal so you don't go too crazy.  Some restaurants also offer half-portions which is a great idea.  You could also chose one or two appetizers for your entree as well.

5.  Skip the crazy specialty bar drinks

They're full of sugar, spice and nothing nice.  Try a house-made sangria or a vodka with soda water, a splash of cranberry, a splash of triple sec and a lime - delish.  Or stick to water.

6.  Ask for your dressing on the side.

Even when ordering a salad, the dressing can sometimes be just as bad as a Big Mac...seriously.  When you get it on the side, you're able to put just the right amount on instead of getting lettuce swimming in dressing.  This usually cuts the fat and sodium intake of dressing in half!

Ask yourself one simple question...

Moral of the story is, be true to yourself.  If you are eyeing that baked bacon mac & cheese with five kinds of cheese with a blooming-onion as a starter, just ask yourself one simple question

"Will I feel good after eating this?"

If the answer is yes, then all the power to ya, but chances are, you'd have twin food babies growing in your tummy after and I'm pretty sure that doesn't feel good.

Don't deprive yourself, enjoy yourself!  Just stay true to being clean, healthy and happy.

Oh and one more important rule:

If you indulge, don't beat yourself up for it.  Find something great about what you just devoured and move on - life is too short not to enjoy food.

Lauren Collins

I'm a health coach and plant-based recipe creator from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In a few short words, I love to cook, eat, travel, play around with food photography and most of all, I love to help people live healthier and happier lives. A lot of the recipes you see here are adapted from my Mom, or from just throwing a few ingredients together until something magical happens.

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