Smart choices at restaurants

Smart choices at restaurants

Restaurants, buffets and even the school cafeteria can present healthy eating challenges. Calories are often too high and hiding in plain sight. It's hard to know how much sugar, fat, and salt are in the food. While you can't cook the food, there are several things you can do:

The Obvious

  • Choose restaurants with healthier menus. If a restaurant is known for its tasty fried food, it's going to be harder to find lower calorie meals. Buffets make it harder to resist piling on the food. Even salad restaurants have lots of high calorie breads, pastas, potatoes and desserts ready to pile onto your plate. 
  • Avoid fried foods and those with buttery or creamy sauces. 
  • Some restaurants will have heart healthy or lower calorie items noted. If not, ask the waiter how the items you're thinking about are prepared.
  • Skip the bread and rolls or limit to one per person. It's hard to restrict yourself to just one when a basket is sitting in front of you throughout the meal. 
  • Encourage your child to order something other than a sandwich. The two slices of bread or the roll adds plenty of extra calories. Try a tortilla or lettuce wrap instead. Kids usually find this fun. 
  • Watch the drinks, not just the over-indulgent milk shakes, but high-calorie juices (they're all high calorie, by the way), iced tea and sodas. Suggest water. Keep in mind a diet drink doesn't justify a large burger, fries and ketchup. 
  • Don't "super size" anything. There is NO real value. The extra calories will cost you later in health bills.
  • See '<<Our Restaurant Reviews'>> to help you make healthy choices for your family
  • The Less Than Obvious
  • Talk about <<healthy lifestyle eating>> at the dinner table at home, and then reinforce it on the way to the restaurant. 
  • Model Healthy Lifestyle Eating at the restaurant. Kids take their cues from their parents.    
  • Substitute a healthy vegetable for potatoes, rice or pasta. Yes, those starches can be a part of a healthy meal plan if they are simply prepared. 
  • Insist that everyone have vegetables as part of the meal. If they're not making room for vegetables (and I don't count potatoes in there), then there's certainly not room for dessert.
  • Help your children figure out what's the healthiest option on the Kid's Menu. Consider offering a reward for choosing a healthy option – like a half hour at a park or extra playtime before bed. 
  • Try squeezing fresh lemon (and a pinch of salt) on your salad instead of salad dressing. Tastes great–with no calories.
  • Don't embarrass an overweight child or single him or her out among others. The emotional hurt is unnecessary and harmful. Instead have the same rules and suggestions apply for all your children (Helping Your Child Lose Weight).


Have you ever seen the way buffets make eyes light up for some kids? All that food. WOW. And what a challenge it can present for someone wanting to have a healthy diet or manage their weight.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Discuss the idea of not wasting food and putting too much on the plate all at once. Better to take lots of different tastes than to load up and either waste it or consume more than you really want or need. 
  • Remember the wonderful Japanese concept: hara hachi bu, eat until your stomach is 80% full. And eat slowly. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to get that sensation of fullness. 
  • Use a small plate if you can find one. Studies show that when you do, you tend to eat much less. 
  • Guide your children to balance what they eat. Make sure they have plenty of vegetables and protein on their plate and avoid the high calorie selections. For dessert, if you have it at all, consider a fruit or fruit salad. 
  • Don't make an issue about their selections. Simply encourage the principles above. Better to have an emotionally healthy child than one who is going to rebel or crave restricted foods. 
  • Be positive and praise their healthy selections. And enjoy your time and the meal together.