Top tips for making good choices when you’re eating out, from registered dietitian Renée Young

Eat what you like
I don’t believe in bad foods. There’s room for everything in a healthy diet; it’s just about moderation. If you really like having a special chocolate bar, you should be able to have one once in a while. Just focus on enjoying it when you do eat it (and not every day, obviously). It’s about eating what you want, when you want, in the right proportions. That’s what’s important.

Scope it out
Most restaurants post their menus online, and some include nutritional information too. Read the menu ahead of time, because we tend to make unhealthier choices when we’re actually in the restaurant.

Crack the menu code
Be aware of different cooking methods. Look for “baked,” “pan fried,” “poached,” “grilled” rather than “crispy” or “deep fried” on a menu. Those words say quite a bit about nutritional content. Other words that indicate foods laden with fat, salt and calories are “scalloped,” “cheese sauce,” “au gratin,” “au fromage” and “a la mode.” Avoid menu items with descriptions that include sauces. This can cut the fat, salt and calories down quite a bit.

Don’t drink all your calories
Enjoy a small glass of wine, light beer or soda with a twist rather than fancy fruity cocktails that are filled with sugar.

Slash salt
Restaurant foods, especially those with processed ingredients, have a lot of hidden salt, so try to choose restaurants that use fresh ingredients. Vegetable-based broths tend to have less salt and fat than other broths used in soups. At a fast food place, ask for them not to season your burger with salt (I used to work at a franchise in high school and that was actually a common request.)

Go custom
Ask for dressing on the side so you can control how much you’re putting on your food. Order salad instead of fries or double up on vegetables so you’re not having a bun plus fries. The goal for your plate is half vegetables, a quarter protein and quarter starch like bread or pasta.

Try some fish
Fish dishes are often cooked in healthier ways, like steamed, baked, broiled, sautéed, blackened, or grilled. Just make sure they’re not fried dishes, and get any sauces served on the side.

Hit the grocery store
If you’re staying somewhere with a fridge, stock up for breakfast at the supermarket, with items like yogurt with berries and granola. This means you can choose lower fat or lower sugar options, and whatever berries you prefer.

Snack smart
Packing your own snacks is really important so you’re not stuck with highly processed convenience foods. Nuts are great because they keep really well in your bag. I often have snap peas, an apple or an orange on hand too.

Be present
I’m definitely not a huge fan of eating while focussing on something else like a presentation or the television. Protect your mealtime so you’re paying attention to what you’re eating; the taste and texture of food. Be present in the moment and you’ll be less likely to overeat because you’ll tap into your hunger cues.


Renée Young, Registered Dietitian, Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre from Owen Sound, Ontario