Dining Out Do's and Dont's
Have Chinese take-out on speed dial? Always celebrate at the Mexican joint? Love to go out for Italian? No matter what the cuisine, we’ve got the guide for you so you can be smart about your order whether you’re eating Greek, Indian, Japanese, or any cuisine in between.
Luckily, eating Chinese can mean getting lots of filling steamed vegetables and protein. However, many preparations include deep frying, sugary sauces, and mountains of carbs from rice and noodles.
Avoid: Anything that says “crispy” or fried. Deep fried meats (like General Tso’s chicken or Orange Chicken) and appetizers like egg rolls can be packed with saturated fat and then covered in sugary sauce. One order of PF Chang’s Crispy Honey Chicken weighs in at over 1400 calories and 69 grams of fat! Fried carbs (like those in fried rice) and noodles dishes soaked in oil should also be avoided. Proceed with caution on the white (and brown) rice as well. An average cup of white rice is about 200 calories and 45 grams of carbs.
Choose: Stir fried and steamed dishes with chicken or fish as protein. If the dish comes with a sauce, ask to have it on the side so your meat isn’t drowning in unnecessary sugar. If you’re very hungry, start with some hot and sour soup or a few steamed vegetable dumplings. Wrap up your meal with a fortune cookie – they’re about 30 calories a pop.
The local diner can be a great place to find old friends… and super high-fat meals. Special requests can be your key to success here. Most diners will be happy to swap in a steamed vegetable for mashed potatoes or serve your pancakes without the extra butter on top. So speak up and choose carefully!
Avoid: Cheesy, creamy, and deep fried dishes. Supersized breakfasts can often arrive with enough bacon, pancakes, sausages, and fried potatoes to last you all week. At lunch, burgers and sandwiches seem to always be prepared with a thick coating of mayo and an enormous side of fries. At dinner, avoid the mashed potatoes and chicken-fried steak (or any deep-fried meat for that matter).
Choose: Baked and grilled main courses with steamed vegetable side dishes. In the morning, try an egg white omelet with vegetables and a few strips of bacon. For lunch, choose a filling salad, but ask for your dressing on the side and limit your croutons and cheese. Or try ordering a grilled chicken sandwich or burger, but lose the bun and the creamy spreads. At dinner, start with a broth-based soup (like chicken noodle) and then look for a grilled or baked meat or fish. Load up on steamed vegetable sides like peas and carrots or broccoli. Still hungry for dessert? Ditch the cherry pie in favor of a cup of fruit salad instead.
The French are renowned around the world for their cuisine. However, French food is also well known for its creamy sauces, cheese courses, and those addicting fries! Throw in some sliced baguette with butter and a crème brulee dessert and your night out can really set you off-course from your fitness goals.
Avoid: Béchamel, Béarnaise, and other creamy sauces, anything “au gratin,” decadent desserts, extra butter, and overloading on bread. Watch out for fatty cuts of meat and avoid eating the skin on cooked chicken and duck courses.
Choose: Seafood and stews. Mussels, scallops, and bouillabaisse (seafood stew) are all smart choices. If you prefer chicken, opt for the coq au vin. Beginning your meal with a salad (dressing on the side) can help to fill you up. Avoid the decadent cakes and cheese plate by opting for sorbet for dessert if you still have room for it.
Greece’s position on the Mediterranean makes Greek food a great choice for getting more fish and olive oil (rich in the “healthy” unsaturated fats) into your diet. Rich in omega-3s and protein, fish can be a great choice for any guy who’s trying to put on lean mass.
Avoid: Cheesy and creamy entrees like moussaka and fried appetizers like spanakopita. Falafel can also pack in a lot of fat through the deep frying process. Go easy on pita bread as well – when dipped in hummus or other sauces it can be addictive and pile on carbs fast.
Choose: Fresh vegetables for salads and kebabs and fresh seafood entrees. Start with a Greek salad (dressing on the side) and just 1 small pita. A few stuffed grape leaves (dolmas) can also be a tasty low-calorie appetizer. For your main course, choose vegetable or chicken kebabs or fish prepared through steaming, baking, or grilling.
When ordering Indian, kick up the spice. Spicy food can help your brain signal your body to slow down and eat less. Plus, the flavors are awesome!
Avoid: Too much naan bread, creamy curries, samosas. Go easy on the rice as well as it can add up, especially when it is soaking up tasty sauces. As with other cuisines, deep-fried appetizers, like samosas and pakoras, should be avoided. Be careful with your portion sizes as well; many restaurants serve “family-style” and a main dish may be meant for more than one person!
Choose: White meat and vegetable dishes, lentil stews, tandoori chicken. The amount of cream (read: extra fat and calories) in a dish depends a lot on how it is prepared and can vary widely from restaurant to restaurant. Ask your server before placing your order for a curry and choose one with white meat chicken or vegetables. Vegetarian dishes like aloo gobi can often be very smart choices. When ordering tandoori chicken, make sure to take off the skin to save yourself unnecessary fat and calories.
One of the most popular cuisines, Italian food offers a huge variety of options for diners. If carbs and fat are enemies of your current fitness goals, you may want to avoid the pasta portion of the menu however.
Avoid: Heavy, cream-based pasta dishes, breaded meats, cheese-stuffed pasta, sausage & meatballs, deep fried appetizers (e.g. calamari, fried mozzarella, fried zucchini), extra cheese, and huge portions. The calories and fat in a cheesy pasta dish can really add up. Consider the Chicken and Shrimp Carbonara at Olive Garden. It weighs in with 1440 calories and a whopping 88 grams of fat. And that’s without any breadsticks to start! Desserts can also hit hard. Italian gelato is denser and has more sugar than American ice cream.
Choose: Pasta primavera, whole-wheat pasta with marinara sauce, minestrone soup, baked seafood. To save calories, choose the red (meat-free) sauces over the white and skip the extra shower of cheese over your meals. Two slices of thin crust pizza with vegetables are also a filling go-to option for dinner. For dessert, choose biscotti or just stick with a small cappuccino made with skim milk.
Filling and typically high-protein, sushi can be a smart choice for anyone trying to get in better shape. Limiting rice, portion sizes, and deep fried appetizers can make your local Japanese restaurant a smart choice for lunches and dinners.
Avoid: Anything tempura, excess rice & noodles, and fried appetizers. Tempura typically indicates batter-fried foods. As with other cuisines, appetizers and courses labeled “crispy” and “crunchy” also typically indicate deep frying. Watch out for dips and sauces that are heavy on mayo, cream cheese, or oil.
Choose: Miso soup, edamame, teriyaki fish or chicken, most sushi, and shabu shabu. Start your meal with miso soup. It averages about 50 calories per cup and can help you to feel fuller. When ordering sushi, cucumber rolls, spicy tuna rolls, and California rolls are all good bets. Ask for them with very little or no mayonnaise. Keep an eye on your portion sizes as well – no matter what the cuisine, too much food is still too much.
Avoid: Deep-fried & cheesy dishes (e.g. chimichangas, enchiladas), fried tortilla bowls, margaritas, and never-ending chips and guacamole. Use caution with portion sizes. Some tortillas can be enormous and, when stuffed with cheese, beans, and meats, the calorie and fat counts can be much higher than anticipated. Avoid extra dollops of sour cream and guacamole as well. Ask your server to remove the extra beans and rice from the table as well if it is too tempting to ignore!
Choose: Salsa/pico de gallo, chicken & vegetable fajitas, black bean soup, and chicken or pork tacos. Lean white meats like chicken and pork are great choices for your fajitas and tacos. Ask for extra vegetables (including bell peppers and onions) to fill you up with lots of fiber.
Craving red meat? The steakhouse can be the place to go and, with the right cuts of meat and the right side dishes, you can keep your meal from destroying your recent progress in the gym.
Avoid: Fattier cuts of beef, cream-based sauces, mashed and fried potatoes, fried onions, sour cream, and enormous portions. Proceed with caution with steak sauce and barbecue sauce – drenching your meat it in covers up the flavors and packs in extra sugar and calories.
Choose: Lean cuts of beef (like flank, round, or loin) prepared, steamed vegetable sides, baked/steamed/grilled fish courses, shrimp cocktail, and oysters. If you’re not a lover of red meat, fish and shellfish can be an excellent, lower-calorie option at a steakhouse. Try oysters or shrimp cocktail for an appetizer. If you order a lean cut of beef, be sure to trim it of remaining visible fat. Finally, instead of mashed potatoes, choose a baked potato (without butter/sour cream) or steamed vegetables for your side dishes.
More and more popular today, Thai food also presents a wide variety of vegetable-rich entrees that can keep your meal filling and healthful, provided that you’ve chosen the right sauces!
Avoid: Coconut milk-based sauces, peanut sauces, and creamy curries. Go easy on the coconut rice and white rice as well. Noodle dishes (particularly those that are also fried in oil) should be skipped. Deep fried options and sugary sauces should also be avoided.
Choose: White meat chicken, tofu, and vegetable stir fries, seafood salad, hot and sour soup, beef skewers, steamed dumplings, and broth-based soups. If your stir fry comes with sauce, ask to have it served on the side so you can control the amount of extra sugar and oil in your meal. Kick up the heat in your curry as well as spicy foods make us feel fuller, faster and can help us to avoid overindulging.