Making sensible food choices when visiting restaurants can be tough. As we get into the age where less people are preparing meals at home, eating out is becoming the norm. We’re no longer just eating out as a treat (or to celebrate) but for convenience. In fact, according to a 2015 report from Mintel, Canadians spend 31% of their discretionary dollars on eating out, which is the same percentage as they would spend on a long vacation1. That’s a lot! 

Picture this: you’re at a fast-food restaurant….

It’s late at night, and you find yourself driving over to a common fast food restaurant.You’re SERIOUSLY craving something greasy and salty. While it might not be a healthy choice in and of itself, it can be a part of a healthy diet if you remember to only treat yourself once in a blue moon. Here are some tips to help balance your fast-food meal!

  1. Simplicity. Avoid supersizing or adding any additional high-calorie toppings.
  2. Don’t drink your calories. Ask for water! By skipping the sugary drink, you are cutting out at least 200 empty calories. If you really can’t live without it, ask for a smaller size, ask the cashiers to fill it up halfway, or share your drink with a friend.
  3. Lay off the condiments. They may seem like harmless little packets of texture and flavour but beware: not all condiments are made equal! One packet of mayo will have about 100 calories and 10g of fat – and many of us will use more than that. In addition, condiments are high in sugar and sodium. While the packets may seem small, it adds up!

And now, you’re at a sit-down restaurant…

Your parents are in town, they want to treat you to a nice meal out, and you want to eat everything in sight. Breathe and remember: moderation.

  1. Make it two meals. Portions at restaurants are much bigger than what you eat at home, but it’s hard to compare when everything is big. Split your dish in half and take the rest home – add some vegetables and you’ll have an easy, delicious meal!
  2. Learn the language. Words like “crispy”, “pan-fried”, “dipped”, “scalloped”, “gratin”, and “alfredo” often mean that dishes are higher in fat and sodium. Instead, look for items that are “grilled”, “steamed” or “roasted”2 .  If you don’t know – ask! Your server will be happy to show off their expertise.
  3. Get a veggie boost! Restaurant meals can be low in veggies, but there is no reason you can’t add some. Start with a broth-based vegetablesoup or green salad as an appetizer, ask for double vegetables on the side, or try a vegetarian meal even if you love meat every once in a while.
  4. Dessert? Desserts at restaurants are often very rich and decadent, so you may want to share with a friend, bring half home, or skip it altogether. If you eat out a few times a week,  looking up the fat content of your favourite desserts might not be a bad idea.

Simple changes do make a difference

Instead of….


  You’ll save
Drink 480mL (16oz) sweetened iced coffee with whipped cream 480mL (16oz) frothy café latte with skim milk 250kcal
Fast Food Double cheeseburger

Medium fries

Medium soft drink

Salad with grilled chicken

Fruit and yogurt


Dinner meal 10oz grilled steak

Caesar salad

Baked potato

150mL (5oz) glass of red wine

4oz steak

1 ½ cup potatoes

Grilled vegetables

4oz cranberry juice with 4oz club soda


From coffee shops to middle eastern cuisine, there are always choices you can make that could contribute to a healthier YOU4 !

Breakfast/Coffee shops

Choose most often

Choose less often

Whole grain muffins

Whole grain bagel with low fat cream cheese or peanut butter

Scones, biscuits, croissants

Fried eggs, sausage, home fries

Sausage, bacon

Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese)

Choose most often

Choose less often

Steamed, stir-fried and vegetable-based

Steamed rice

Sushi, rice-paper spring rolls

Light soy sauce, no MSG

Battered/fried foods (such as tempura, fried

wonton, egg rolls, and shrimp chips)

Soy, teriyaki, peanut, and coconut- based sauces


Choose most often

              Choose less often
Lentil, vegetable, and bean-based stews

Curries and soups

Vegetable/vegetarian dishes

Roasted or grilled meat, fish, poultry

Yogurt, kulfi

Naan, roti, chapati

Foods cooked in ghee (clarified butter) or cream

Deep-fried foods (such as  cake, samosa, or pakora)

High-sugar or salty chutneys

Fried meat, fish, poultry

Middle Eastern

Choose most often

Choose less often

Tabbouleh, tzatziki, hummus

Whole-wheat pita bread

Grilled meat, poultry, fish, seafood (such as kabobs and shawarma)

Stews, soups and dishes made with

vegetables, lentils, beans, chickpeas

Dishes made with phyllo pastry (such as baklava or spanakopita)

High-fat sauces and dressings (such as tahini and baba ghanouj)

White pita bread

Deep-fried falafel

Here’s to making smarter choices while still being able to enjoy yourself. Cheers!

Jane Skapinker

Registered Dietitian


  1. Mintel. (2015). Canadian consumers adopt ‘sensible spending’ attitude for 2015, despite forecasted spending increases. In Mintel. Retrieved from
  2. Van Den Broek. 8 tips for eating healthily at restaurants. In Best health. Retrieved from
  3. Swiss Chalet. Nutrition calculator. Retrieved from
  4. Dietitians of Canada. (2008). How Can I Make Healthier Choices When Eating Out? Retrieved from [by access only]

Monday, December 4, 2017 in
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