Tips for a Healthful Dining Out Experience

PHOTO: THINKSTOCK.COM/TOMWANG112

Spring has arrived, with the sun making longer appearances and bright buds ready to bloom. It also means National Nutrition Month is here, full of healthful tips and tricks of the trade provided by registered dietitian nutritionists. In the spirit of National Nutrition Month, I hope to give you a little insight on how to “Put Your Best Fork Forward” this month and year-round when dining out.

As both a professional chef and restaurant reviewer, I’ve dined in my fair share of restaurants. From seedy hole-in-the-walls to top-notch fine dining, there are a slew of ways to “Put Your Best Fork Forward” without flavor taking a backseat. Thinking through your options before diving in will ensure you leave satisfied, but still on track with your individual nutrition goals.  Here are my top tips for staying on track when eating out.

Load Up on Veggies and Slow Your Roll on Sauce

There’s a reason why RDNs love and emphasize vegetable consumption. Veggies fill you up with nutrients and fiber without loading you down with excess calories. However, that doesn’t hold true if the veggies are doused in a heavy creamy or cheesy sauce. Live a little by ordering the sauce on the side, though, and then use what I call the “fork-dip method.” Pick the veggie up on your fork — or dining utensil of choice — and dip it sparingly into the sauce. That way each bite is packed with flavor and not needlessly drowned in the sauce. This will save you calories and give you a full appreciation of the vegetables. The same method goes for salads and dressings.

Drink Up (with Smart Choices)

Don’t be afraid to order seconds when it comes to beverages. Water, unsweetened tea or seltzer with citrus wedges are great ways to stay hydrated and quench your thirst. However, specialty cocktails, that second (or third) glass of wine and pints of beer add on calories but don’t necessarily satiate. Going out for drinks is one thing, but if you’re dining out, try shifting the focus to the conversation and quality meal ahead.

Sharing is Caring

Many places are jumping on the bandwagon of tapas-style dining, or small plates. Split a few of these small dishes with your date or group of friends. It’s an enjoyable way to try a variety of menu items without overdoing it and feeling uncomfortably full.

These are only a handful of general dining-out tips, but it's all a balancing act. Eating out has become a large part of our culture, whether it’s celebrating a birthday, catching up with friends or even grabbing a meal on the way to or from work. Choose where you want to be a little decadent and where you can afford to be a little lean. When you “Put Your Best Fork Forward” during National Nutrition Month and throughout the year, you’ll know you aren’t sacrificing flavor for nutritious bites.

Tessa Nguyen on FacebookTessa Nguyen on InstagramTessa Nguyen on Twitter
Tessa Nguyen
Tessa Nguyen, RD, LDN, is a chef and registered dietitian working in the Triangle area of North Carolina. She is an alumna of Johnson & Wales University and Meredith College. When Tessa isn't traveling and discovering new restaurants, she teaches culinary nutrition cooking classes at Duke and works as a consultant in the food and nutrition industries. Connect with her at Taste Nutrition Consulting and follow her on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.