Restaurant Menus Demystified: The Best & Worst Items to Order

Jan 10 2024
While there’s nothing wrong with the occasional splurge, you may be faced with this conundrum: You’re rocking your healthy-eating journey at home but have a hard time making health-focused decisions when dining out. When restaurants provide nutritional info, it's a huge help... but that data isn't always available (and we don't always have the time to seek it out). So how can you emerge from a restaurant meal without totally overdoing it? We've got a cheat sheet right here!

HG FYI: These tips are fantastic for anyone looking to moderate their calorie intake as part of a weight-loss or weight-management plan. You don’t need to incorporate every single one of them. We just want to arm you with the info so you can make the best choices for YOU.

Top 3 Restaurant-Ordering Tips

1. Start with a salad (light dressing on the side), broth-based soup, or lean-protein appetizer (like shrimp cocktail). This is how to start your meal off with a smart option. You'll take the edge off your hunger and likely eat less of your entrée. Skip the fried tortilla chips, which can add hundreds of calories to your meal. And if you have trouble sticking to a single roll or prefer to avoid it altogether, request no bread basket on the table or subtly slide it out of reach.

2. Don't be afraid to ask questions and special order. Just do it politely, of course. If the menu description isn't clear, ask how a dish is prepared. You can request "easy on the oil" or no butter. Get sauces on the side, or ask for lighter alternatives (like salsa or lemon wedges) to flavor up your food. And ask for extra veggies in place of a starchy side!

3. Understand menu terminology. This one is critical! Certain terms signal a smart choice, while others can be code for less-healthy options. To make things easy for you, we've come up with a guide to the good, the bad, and the questionable. Read on!

Menu Terms to Embrace

Broiled: Cooked under heat, typically without excess oil. Perfect prep for chicken and seafood.

Broth: Water infused with meat, seafood, and/or veggies. Look for broth-based soups and shellfish steamed in broth. Mmmm...

Grilled: Cooked over a grate with dry heat, usually without much oil. (When in doubt, ask.) Bonus: Grill marks ROCK.

Seared: Cooked quickly over high heat to achieve a slightly charred surface. Very little oil needed.

Steamed: Cooked using moist heat, either using a steamer or just by trapping the steam in a covered pan. Rarely involves oil. Ideal veggie prep!

Roasted/Fire-Roasted: Cooked in a dry-heat environment, generally a light amount of oil.

Menu Terms to Avoid

Au Gratin: Cooked in a sauce of cream and cheese. Save this for special occasions!

Bisque: Soup with a heavy cream base. Why bother, when there are so many delicious light soups?

Breaded/Battered: Coated with flour and generally fried.

Candied: Cooked with sugar and (sometimes) butter. Common treatment for nuts.

Caramelized: Cooked until deeply browned. Typically involves a fair amount of butter.

Creamy: This sauce description usually means high-calorie ingredients are involved: mayo, sour cream, milk, butter, etc.

Crispy/Crunchy: In other words? Fried. A combo of breading and oil is what usually achieves that crisp texture.

Glazed: Generally indicates being lacquered in a sugary and/or oily sauce.

Smothered: Typically means "drowned in cheese, gravy, or cream sauce." See also: country style, disco, and wet.

Wild Cards on the Menu

Drizzled: Lightly sauced or topped. While it's better than "smothered," it can still be caloric if the sauce is creamy and the chef has a heavy hand. When in doubt, ask for it on the side.

Fresh: Contrary to popular belief, this is not synonymous with low calorie. Fresh could refer to something uncooked, freshly made, or simply made in-house. Fresh tilapia and broccoli = good. Fresh pasta in cream sauce = at your discretion!

Sautéed: Sometimes cooked in generous amount of butter or oil; sometimes not. (Reminder: You can request that a small amount of butter or oil be used.)

Chew on this:

It’s National Bittersweet Chocolate Day, January 10th! But there’s nothing bitter about JOJO’s sweet low-sugar Dark Chocolate Bites, made with plant protein…

On a healthy-eating path with your pals? Share today’s tips & tricks for dining out!


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