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How to Eat Out at a Restaurant: 12 Tips to Save Money, Eat Healthy & Still Enjoy

Americans are eating out more and more of the time -- with nearly a third of our calories coming from restaurants (close to double the amount of the 1970s). Not only can this restaurant habit get expensive (Americans are expected to spend over $500 billion eating out in 2006 alone), but it can also get fattening.

On average, a meal in a restaurant will have 20 percent more fat, and 15 percent more saturated fat, than a home-cooked meal, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. It will also be higher in sodium and cholesterol and lower in calcium, fiber and iron.

eating out

Eating out should be enjoyable ... sharing an entrée or a couple of healthy appetizers is an ideal way to leave without feeling guilty about what you ate or how much you spent.

Of course, eating out can also be a much-needed retreat, a chance to celebrate a special occasion, and a time to enjoy some really good food. And it can be done in a way that's healthy, enjoyable and affordable, if you follow these 12 essential eating-out tips.

  1. Share an entrée (and order an extra soup or salad, if you want). This keeps you from eating too much of an over-sized portion, and saves money.

  2. Order water with lemon or lime for your drink. Much healthier than soda or sweetened teas, and free.

  3. Take advantage of 'Kids Eat Free" offers if you're bringing the kids. But, check the menu first to be sure they have something healthier than hot dogs and fries.

  4. Eat out less often. Rather than eating out five lunches a week, brown-bag it to work (choosing healthy, sensible foods), then pick one night every two weeks to go out to dinner. You'll be able to splurge at dinner and still spend less money and eat fewer calories overall.

  5. Skip the appetizer and dessert. Adding on these two items will add a lot of extra sugar and calories to your meal -- a lot more than you'd normally eat at home -- and extra costs. If you must have an appetizer, consider ordering it as your meal, along with a small salad or soup.

  6. restaurant tips

    When you peruse the menu, choose your entrée for its nutritional value (lots of fresh veggies, steamed or grilled, not fried), along with its taste.

  7. Order a small portion or half-order, when offered. You'll find you get more than enough food, and it costs less.

  8. Ask for healthier options. You can always ask to have your chicken grilled instead of fried, to have no oil/butter added to your meal, or to have a side of steamed veggies instead of fries. Also feel free to ask your server for a more detailed description of an entrée (what type of oil is used, how is it cooked, etc.).

  9. Go out for lunch instead of dinner. Lunch menus often offer the same things as a dinner menu, but in smaller, lower priced portions. Good for your waistline and your wallet.

  10. Ask about the specials. Specials that aren't ordinarily on the menu may be better priced, and they're usually made with fresh, in-season ingredients.

  11. Order dressings/sauces that you know the ingredients of. You may be surprised how many additives are in a restaurant's ranch salad dressing or "special" sauce. If in doubt as to the quality of the ingredients, opt for olive oil and vinegar for your salad and mustard, etc. for your sandwich.

  12. Choose foods for their nutritional value, too. When choosing what to order, don't just pick something for taste alone. Think about nutrition and what the food can give back to your body (and how you'll feel later if you indulge too much).

  13. Stop eating when you're full. You can take the rest of the food home with you and have it for another meal later.

Recommended Reading

Salt: What You Really Need to Know About the Harmful & Healthful Effects of Sodium

All the Health Risks of Processed Foods -- In Just a Few Quick, Convenient Bites


The New York Times

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