By Karen Hanson on February 9, 2017

Go Ahead, Dine Out

Tips to a healthy meal away from home


If you’re watching what you eat and a friend asks you to eat out at a restaurant, you don’t have to say no. Discovering healthful options at a favorite restaurant is possible if you plan ahead and conjure up the willpower to say no to the cheesy, fried, smothered items on the menu. (It’s hard, we know.) 

“The biggest tip I would suggest is to plan ahead,” says Karen Hanson, dietitian for the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment. “Get online and check out menus before you head to the restaurant. Creating excitement about a healthy dish will ensure you choose that dish when you reach the destination.” 

If you aren’t able to check out the restaurant’s online menu beforehand or one isn’t available, there are some tricks to choosing items that will help you stay within your goals. 


We all know water is probably the best thing you can drink at any time, but occasionally you want to treat yourself to something a little stronger. 

“If you don’t want plain water, maybe bring along a MiO® to flavor it up,” Hanson says. “If you want some alcohol, avoid sugary drinks such as margaritas or piña coladas and opt for a glass of wine, light beer or a vodka tonic.” 

Avoiding those sugary drinks will help you avoid added calories.  


If you start your meal with a salad, be sure to order the dressing on the side. Hanson suggests you stick with vinaigrettes or oil-based dressings. If you have a dressing you know is healthy and you enjoy it, bring it with you.  

“Don't be afraid to bring a little jar or cup of dressing with you to the restaurant. But be sure to dip the salad in the jar or cup instead of pouring the entire helping on the salad. You'll reduce calories by using only what you need.” 


Many restaurants offer a choice to substitute items, to get grilled instead of fried items or smaller-sized portions.  

“Look for fresh fruits and vegetables or steamed vegetables,” Hanson suggests. “Replace those fries with steamed vegetables. And try to stay away from cream sauces and items buried in cheese or gravies.”  

When you order an entrée, see if it’s enough to split with another person. Ask for a to-go box when the food comes out. 

“Once the food arrives, box up half of it to-go so you minimize your portion and have something to eat for the next day,” Hanson says. 

Another tip Hanson offers is to create your dinner a la carte. Get a grilled piece of meat and a side of vegetables. Or substitute the baked potato with sour cream and butter with a double order of steamed veggies.  


Two desserts may sound good, but they’re bad for your waistline. Although we should all treat ourselves from time to time, balance is key when it comes to desserts.  

“If you know you want a dessert, get a smaller entrée,” Hanson says. “Perhaps you can split the dessert or try to lean more toward fruit-based sweet treats.”  

Going out to eat at restaurants should be something you look forward to. Try to find a balance that works for you and your goals, whether you’re cooking at home or dining out.  

For more restaurant tips, visit this link.


  • Karen Hanson

    Karen Hanson

    Karen Hanson is a dietitian for the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.  Her  role is to promote sound nutrition practices and education for the public. She is a Registered Dietitian and a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American college of Sports Medicine.  Karen and her husband have been... Read more