Be Wise and Portion Size When Eating Out

By Barbara Day, M.S., R.D., C.N.


The Affordable Care Law requires restaurants with 20 or more restaurants to put calories information on their menus or menu boards but what about small Mom & Pop local  restaurants? Here are some guidelines to help you make wise choices when eating out!


Strategies for Eating Out

  • Select a restaurant with care.
  • Develop an effective game plan.
  • Split menu items.
  • Ask for lunch size portions – they are smaller.


The consumer is in the driver’s seat.

  • Ask server to put salad dressing, butter, or sour cream on the side.
  • Ask the server to remove or don’t bring bread, butter, chips and salsa.
  • Order meat grilled or broiled rather than fried.
  • Hold the mayonnaise but bring on the mustard.
  • Eat whole wheat bread rather than a croissant.
  • Stay away from cream, cheese and butter sauces.
  • Order broth based soups rather than cream based soups.
  • Have the entrée split into 2 servings in the kitchen

Fast Food Hamburger Chain Green Light Choices

  • Single hamburger or cheeseburger
  • Grilled chicken sandwich
  • Grilled chicken salad
  • Baked potato with chili or broccoli
  • Small order French fries
  • Garden and side salad – use light dressing
  • Frozen yogurt

Mexican Restaurant Green Light Choices

  • Black bean, tortilla soup or gazpacho
  • Mexican or taco salad (don’t eat the fried shell)
  • Arroz con pollo (chicken and rice)
  • Burritos and Enchiladas
  • Fajitas
  • Soft tacos
  • Black or pinto beans (not refried beans with cheese)
  • Mexican rice
  • Pico de gallo
  • All hot sauces

Chinese Restaurant Green Light Choices

  • Wonton, egg drop or hot & sour soup
  • Teriyaki beef or chicken
  • Chop suey or chow mein
  • Vegetarian stir-fry dishes

Italian Restaurant Green Light Choices

  • Marinated vegetable salad
  • Minestrone soup
  • Shrimp cocktail
  • Pasta with tomato sauce or marinara sauce
  • Chicken or veal cacciatore, light wine or light tomato sauce
  • Chicken or shrimp primavera (no cream in sauce)

American Restaurant Green Light Choices

  • Broth-based soups
  • Chili (hold the cheese and sour cream)
  • Peel and eat shrimp
  • Salad with light or fat free dressing on the side
  • Salad with grilled tuna or chicken
  • Teriyaki or BBQ chicken breast
  • Fajitas

More Resources for Planning your Game Plan

A website,, can help you make better choices when eating out.

Eat This Not That: Thousands of Simple Food Swaps That Can Save You 10, 20, 30 Pounds-or-More

By David Zinczinko and Matt Goulding


FREE app, Fooducate, for your I-phone or Android to help you make better fast food choices.

Image from: http://proverbs4wisdom

Barbara Day, M.S., R.D., C.N., is a registered dietitian with a Master’s Degree in clinical nutrition.  The former publisher of Kentuckiana HealthFitness Magazine, Kentuckiana Healthy Woman magazine and radio show host of Health News You Can Use, Barbara has over 30 years of experience in promoting healthy lifestyles to consumers.  Barbara worked as Nutrition Consultant to the Navy SEALs (8 years) and the University of Louisville Athletic Department (10 years). Barbara has private practice, DayByDay Nutrition,, where she counsels clients on weight loss, cholesterol management, performance nutrition and an array of other medical issues.  Visit Barbara’s new website which is an on-line health & wellness magazine, Barbara writes nutrition and health columns for as well as a weekly nutrition column for the Southeast Outlook. She also designs and presents employee wellness programs to small and large businesses. Barbara is a runner, cyclist, hiker and a mother and grandmother to 13 grandchildren.    

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