The Nutrisystem Dining Out GuideArticle posted in: Nutrisystem
When you’re dieting, often the first big bump in the road is eating out and/or ordering out. There are business lunches, girlfriend dinners, sporting events, family birthdays, the occasional romantic dinner for two, and with the current situation, takeout nights at home! Not to mention sporting events, the movies and the mall food court. You can’t exactly ask the chef to microwave your Nutrisystem meal for you when you’re out. What’s a dedicated dieter to do?
Nutrisystem is all about flexibility. That’s why we call the food you prepare for yourself and the meals you enjoy at your favorite restaurant “Flex Meals.” You won’t be microwaving prepackaged entrees forever. You chose Nutrisystem because you wanted to learn how to make healthy choices to fit your lifestyle long after you’ve lost all the weight you want.
So whether you’re heading out to dinner tonight or going out to catch a movie, we’ve got you covered with healthy restaurant options.
Click here to view the full Nutrisystem Dining Out Guide >
Or, if you already know where you’re heading for dinner tonight, click on the appropriate restaurant type below to find out what to order and what to skip. Helpful hint: Click on the restaurant type to read the full guide.
1. Mexican Restaurants >
The danger starts with the tortilla chips which come to your table almost faster than your server. Like many Mexican foods, they’re fried, loaded with calories and way too easy to eat.
To avoid temptation, ask the server to take them away and ask for an order of veggies, like celery sticks, to dip in the healthy and delicious low-calorie salsa. Guacamole? Sure, have some, but don’t overdo. While it contains healthy avocado, a good source of monounsaturated fat, a three-ounce serving can range anywhere from 135 calories to more than 300 calories, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Say no to nachos and skip the sour cream.
Better yet, order a salad or soup (minus tortilla strips) to take the edge off your hunger before your entrée arrives. Ceviche is also a good choice. It’s basically a seafood salad prepared in lemon and lime juice.
For your entrée, learn a little Spanish. “Con queso” means “with cheese” which can turn an otherwise healthy entrée into a calorie bomb.
Your best bets? Go for the fresh grilled fish entrees or choose veggie-loaded tacos and tostados with soft shells, which aren’t fried. Want beef or chicken? Look for menu items that say they’re grilled. “Asada” and “a la parilla” are your Spanish clues to grilled meats and poultry.
For dessert, split a flan, a traditional custard dessert. Half a single serving is around 174 calories, according to the USDA.
For a more concise guide to eating out at a Mexican restaurant, click on the link below!
2. Italian Restaurants >
Nothing says “mangia till you drop” like a plate of spaghetti and meatballs at an Italian restaurant. And if you’re honest with yourself, that plate in front of you holds enough for a family of four.
Can you still have it? Sure. Just ask for a box and put the extra three servings (which make up about three-quarters of your plate) inside immediately. The rest is yours.
Wave away the bread basket and order a green salad with oil and vinegar on the side. If they have balsamic vinegar available, try a few spritzes without oil. You may be surprised at how sweetly delicious it is solo. Or have a cup of veggie-rich minestrone.
Hankering for pizza? If you have a choice beforehand, pick an Italian restaurant that gives you the option of whole wheat crust and load it with veggies instead of calorie-laden meat and cheese. Have some cheese, but ask for just a sprinkle or ask for no cheese and give your pizza a few shakes of Parmesan which is usually on the table. No whole wheat? Get a thin crust and avoid the “white” pizza. The white pizza is usually loaded with just cheese.
As with most restaurants, your best bets are simple grilled or roasted fish and chicken dishes seasoned with herbs but without creamy or cheesy sauces like Alfredo, carbonara or pesto.
Know that the words “au gratin” mean cheese and “stuffed” with any entrée usually also means cheese (like manicotti, lasagna, stuffed shells or tortellini). Ask for whole wheat noodles if they have them then limit sauces to safe bets such as marinara, primavera, white or red clam sauce or lemon sauce.
For a more concise guide to eating out at an Italian restaurant, click on the link below!
3. Indian Restaurants >
Eating out on a diet? Ordering dinner at an Indian restaurant is easy because there are plenty of healthy and vegetarian options. There’s nothing like the aromatic flavors of coriander, cinnamon, turmeric and ginger to make eating veggies a sensual pleasure.
Opt for appetizers and entrees that contain lentils or garbanzo beans, which are high in protein (therefore filling). Scan the menu for the foods billed as “tandoori.” That means they’re cooked in a tandoor, a bell-shaped clay pot that can reach temperatures as high as 900 degrees. No oil, no frying. “Tikka” style cooking is your clue to healthy marinades (yogurt and spices, not coconut milk, ghee—clarified butter—or cream found in many Indian dishes).
Yes, some of the most delicious Indian foods are the worst for you. It may be painful, but turn down the naan bread which has no fiber and is brushed with oil. Pakoras are veggie appetizers that are battered and deep fried. Samosas may be curried vegetables, but they’re packaged in pastry which is deep fried. And skip those cream sauces that make curry, chicken korma and saag paneer so appetizing.
Learn a little of the Indian language. When you see “dal” it means you’re getting a legume like lentils or split peas cooked in aromatic spices. Likewise, “chana masala” is legume based: Garbanzo beans cooked with tomatoes, onions and spices. “Aloo gobi” is cauliflower and potatoes spiced with turmeric, ginger, cumin, garlic and paprika.
For a more concise guide to eating out at an Indian restaurant, click on the link below!
4. Seafood Restaurants >
Grilled salmon with mango salsa. Shrimp cocktail. Steamed mussels in wine sauce. Eating out at a seafood restaurant is a dieter’s—and foodie’s—dream. There are loads of healthy and lower calorie choices so you’ll never feel like you’re depriving yourself.
But beware the cream sauces, melted butter, batter-dipped and breaded entrées, the fried baskets, creamy chowders and bisques and the fries or chips that are also staples on the seafood menu.
Love clam chowder? Most restaurants offer you a choice of red (Manhattan) or white (New England). Like the Muppets, take Manhattan. Or, if it’s available, pick Maryland She Crab soup, also a “red.”
For your entrée, go for fish or shellfish that’s broiled, boiled, grilled, poached or blackened. Casseroles are a minefield of fatty ingredients like mayo. Skip the fries and potatoes and asked for steamed vegetables with herbs.
While you’ve always enjoyed lobster dipped in melted butter, trust us, you’re going to love it without the butter. It’s naturally sweet and salty and you won’t miss the butter at all. Likewise, skip the buttery scampi and have your shrimp as a simple shrimp cocktail or grilled.
In fact, many of your favorite seafood choices are just as flavorful with some fresh lemon or lime juices squeezed on top and a sprinkling of herbs. But if you need a sauce, think about salsa-based toppings, herbs and spices, mustard-dill sauces or those based in wine.
Ceviche is a Spanish dish in which shrimp, scallops and other seafood are marinated in a citrus bath which cooks them and is a good choice as either an appetizer or main dish. So is sushi, which is a Japanese dish made from raw fish, seaweed, vegetables and rice (ask for brown rice and loads of pickled ginger!).
For a more concise guide to eating out at a seafood restaurant, click on the link below!
5. The Diner >
They didn’t call diners “greasy spoons” for nothing. At one time, you couldn’t get anything that wasn’t fried on a “grill” that had just been hosed down by oil or plunged into a deep fat fryer. And they certainly have their share of breaded platters, mayonnaise-laden salads, entrees that all end with the words “and cheese,” and a rotating shelf of pies and cakes higher than, as they used to say, the waitress’s beehive hairdo.
Fortunately, things have changed at the diner, including the server’s hair styles. Portion size is still an issue (as it is in most restaurants) so ask for a box when you order and immediately put the “extra” portions inside to take home with you.
Skip the griddle-cooked foods. Diner chefs are still hosing the grill with a stream of oil, though it’s more likely to be a healthier oil these days (still, fat is fat). That may mean that eggs are out unless you ask for them to be poached.
If you want a fried egg, order a sandwich, which is usually only one egg on an English muffin, but skip the cheese or add one slice of Canadian bacon. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than the three-egg cheese omelet. If you want that three-egg omelet, ask for egg whites or Egg Beaters, which cost a little extra and fill your omelet with veggies, not cheese.
Eating out for breakfast? Click here to learn how to order smart >
If you’re dying for a burger, ask for one that’s broiled, not “grilled”—unless the chef is using a barbecue grilled—and have it bun-less. Likewise, have your grilled chicken on a veggie salad rather than a roll and ask for oil and vinegar or a light dressing on the side.
Believe it or not, a grilled cheese sandwich or a BLT aren’t bad choices. Just make sure to ask that the chef not use much butter on your grilled cheese and pick off a little bacon from your BLT (better yet, ask for turkey bacon). Always ask for mayo on the side. Many restaurants now carry light mayo for calorie-counters. You only have to request it.
A word about what “wheat bread” means at a diner: It doesn’t necessarily mean “whole wheat.” Most breads are wheat breads. Sometimes the diner wheat bread is just white bread with enough whole wheat or molasses thrown in to change its color. It may have little or no fiber.
Since fries come with just about everything, ask to substitute a fruit salad with your breakfast or a green salad with lunch and dinner.
Be wary of salads. The Cobb salad, for example, may be loaded with veggies but it’s also loaded with cheese, bacon and avocado—not to mention dressing that can make it 800 calories or more.
For a more concise guide to eating out at a diner, click on the link below!
6. Chinese Restaurants >
Chinese food is popular for its big portions and cheap prices, but if you’re trying to lose weight, that can be dangerous. Luckily, you can enjoy your favorite Asian cuisine and stay on track to your weight loss goal by making some simple swaps on the menu.
Before you make the common choice of ordering high-calorie egg rolls as part of your appetizer, know that there are much tastier, healthier options. Try steamed pork dumplings instead. By making this swap, it can save you 480 calories per order of four and they’re still fun to eat in the bamboo steamer dish and filled with pork flavor.
Pairing your appetizer with soup is a smart and satisfying choice: A cup of egg drop soup can run as few as 40 calories, but could help you save far more calories when your entree arrives. In a 2007 study, scientists found that having a low-calorie soup as a first course reduced the amount of calories participants ate at entree time by 20 percent.
When it’s time to order your entree, skip the fried, breaded and crispy options. Ginger chicken is a great alternative to the high-fat, high-calorie fried chicken and it’s full of flavor. You’ll get a huge portion and if you pair it with broccoli, you have yourself a satisfying, low-calorie Chinese dish.
Even if you’re not eating out at a Chinese restaurant and are making Chinese food at home, you can make a healthier meal without sacrificing flavor.
For a more concise guide to eating out at a Chinese restaurant, click on the link below!
7. Japanese Restaurants >
A lot of people assume that Japanese food is a healthy choice no matter what. However, although many Japanese dishes are steamed, which certainly saves calories, that’s not to say that everything on a Japanese menu—even in the steamed section—is healthy. It really depends on what you’re ordering.
Some of the best choices that you can order at a Japanese restaurant include salads, soups, fresh fruit, sushi and sashimi. Poultry, fish and shellfish dinners are also the better choices over beef or duck dinners. Steamed dishes are always a safe choice, but you can also look for dishes that are braised, broiled, grilled or sautéed as these are obviously much healthier ways of cooking than frying.
You can even ask that the chef cook with less sauce in order to make the dish healthier. Thick sauces, such as teriyaki, tend to be high in sugar and sodium, depending on how they’re made. You might also ask for the sauce on the side so that you choose how much to add. It’s also important to avoid anything that has the word “fried” or “battered” on the menu.
At Japanese restaurants, the portions are often quite large, so take some of it home for another time. You may even want to portion what you plan to eat and ask for the rest of it to be boxed up immediately so that it’s not sitting there tempting you—or so that you don’t accidentally eat more than you planned.
For a more concise guide to eating out at a Japanese restaurant, click on the link below!
8. Thai Restaurants >
Traditionally, Thai food is considered healthy. Many of the dishes use a lot of vegetables and are flavored with natural herbs and seasonings. However, there are certainly choices that contain a lot of MSG, oil and sugar, so you should be careful when it comes to your selection.
You should avoid anything that is deep fried. Words like “crispy” or “golden brown” are definitely red flags even if the menu item doesn’t say “fried.”
Instead, look at some of the salad options and ask for the dressing on the side. Or, choose healthier soups such as tom yum koong or po taek. Vegetable dishes can also be a great choice, as can steamed dishes, such as mussels. How your meal is cooked will have a tremendous impact on its health factor. Look for dishes that are braised, sautéed, steamed or stir fried as opposed to deep fried.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t typically dine at Thai restaurants and you don’t know much about the menu, then ask for some help. Explain that you’re looking for a healthier option.
For a more concise guide to eating out at a Thai restaurant, click on the link below!
9. Fast Food Restaurants >
Fast food on a diet? It sounds like a misnomer. But the truth is that you can make healthy choices at a drive-through or quick counter service restaurant that won’t totally derail your healthy lifestyle. We know that life is hectic and sometimes grabbing something quick on the go is your best option.
Avoid foods like chicken strips, chicken nuggets and fries are packed with fat and calories. Generally speaking, you also want to avoid cheese, soda, shakes and anything that is “supersized” or “extra-large.” Also, be careful about sauces.
Instead, order the smallest portions of the healthiest possible options. Portion size can make a huge difference when dining at a fast food restaurant. Ordering off the kid’s menu will give you enough of your fast food fix to hopefully satisfy the craving but will save you tremendously when it comes to the number of calories (and fat) you’re consuming. In general, some of the healthier options at a fast food restaurant include a grilled chicken sandwich, a small hamburger (no cheese) or a salad with the dressing on the side. You definitely have to be careful with salad dressing choices, though.
You can also ask for some basic changes to your meal to make it healthier. This is typically easier to do when you go inside as opposed to giving special instructions in the drive-through. You can ask for meals without the cheese, without crispy onions or without any sauces in order to save yourself some unnecessary fat and calories.
For a more concise guide to eating out at a fast food restaurant, click on the link below!
10. French/Continental Restaurants >
French restaurants are known for their big portions, so it will be important to pay attention to how much you’re eating so that you don’t accidentally go overboard. Keeping control of your eating habits and choosing wisely from the menu will make a huge difference in how well you stick to your plan.
Avoid the bread and butter that will likely come out first. Filling up on dinner rolls won’t do your diet any good. Also, be sure to steer clear of fried appetizers, cream-based soups and salads with creamy dressings. As you explore the menu for your entrée selection, avoid dishes with rich sauces such as hollandaise, which will have a lot of fat and calories. Similarly, “stuffed” dishes—such as stuffed chicken breast—are popular in European cuisine but also tend to have a lot of fat and calories. You’ll also want to stay away from cheesy dishes or those served “au gratin,” which means sprinkled with seasoned breadcrumbs and cheese.
Instead, choose lean meat dishes such as lean pork, chicken, fish or shrimp. If you choose a beef dish, opt for small cuts. Vegetables such as asparagus are always a great pick, assuming they’re not served in a cream or cheese-based sauce. You can always ask the wait staff to put sauces, butter and sour cream on the side and you might see if the chef could steam your side of vegetables.
French restaurants are known for lavish desserts. You can have some, just share with some friends! It’s that simple.
For a more concise guide to eating out at a French/Continental restaurant, click on the link below!
11. Vegetarian Restaurants >
Despite popular belief, vegetarian does not automatically mean healthy. Even if you choose a vegetable-based dish, it doesn’t mean it’s healthy. There are many ways to cook vegetables that can detract from their overall health factor such as deep frying them or saturating them in oil.
On the menu, avoid words like “crispy” or “golden” because that usually means fried. Also steer clear of dishes made with cheese sauces or topped with a lot of shredded cheese. Cheese is one of the fastest ways to add unnecessary fat into a vegetarian dish. If your meal comes with cheese you can always ask your server to leave it off. Also, be careful to avoid creamy soups such as cream of potato or even corn chowder. Similarly, creamy salad dressings are also loaded with calories.
A good rule of thumb is to look for foods that are grilled, sautéed, skewered, steamed, baked or roasted on the menu. For soups, look for those that are broth-based. Some of the best choices at a vegetarian restaurant include fresh fruit, vegetables, veggie burgers, lentils and beans, tofu, tempeh and salads with the dressing on the side. You should also choose whole grains whenever possible. Skip the bread basket if it’s just white rolls made from refined flour.
How your meal is prepared is important. Ask the chef if it’s possible for them to use less oil and salt in your food’s preparation. You can even ask for sauces to be served on the side or even that you be served an “appetizer portion” of your meal.
For a more concise guide to eating out at a vegetarian restaurant, click on the link below!
12. American Restaurants >
American-style restaurants like diners and family restaurants are popular for a wide variety of choices. Unfortunately for your diet, these choices are usually greasy, fatty and come in huge portions. There is a way to order healthier while still having a good time with family and friends!
Your best choices are likely going to be options like chicken dishes, fajitas, fish dishes, broth-based soups, vegetarian selections or salads. How the food is prepared is also important. Look for food that is baked, blackened, broiled, charbroiled or roasted. If you opt for a salad, choose low-fat or fat-free dressings.
Steer clear of Alfredo sauce, burgers, fried foods, melts, cream-based soups, cheesy meals or anything that is “jumbo” or “stacked” or “piled high.”
Also don’t be afraid to ask for a special order that will help keep you on track. You might ask if the kitchen can add more vegetables, hold the sour cream or mayonnaise, put the dressing on the side, replace your French fries with fruit or a side salad or even serve an appetizer or kid’s meal as your adult entrée.
For a more concise guide to eating out at an American restaurant, click on the link below!
13. Coffee Shops >
There’s no reason you can’t still enjoy a nice coffee break while also sticking to your plan. Although there are a lot of reasonable choices at most coffee shops, there are also some snacks and drinks that you should steer clear of. With just a little bit of forethought and preparation, you can make some decisions in advance about what you plan to order and prevent any diet damage.
In general, you should steer clear of blended drinks which are usually packed with sugar. It’s also best to avoid hot chocolate or fruit juices, which also tend to be high in calories.
You should also avoid add-ins like flavored syrups, cream, half-and-half, whole milk and whipped cream when you order a drink. Baked goods are also a very common diet trap at coffee shops and you’ll want to be careful to avoid choices such as coffee cake, croissants, Danishes or doughnuts.
Instead, opt for an unsweetened iced tea, a bottle of water or a cup of hot tea. Even a cappuccino, espresso or latte—served with fat-free milk—is a much better choice. If you’re ordering food, try a piece of biscotti or even some toast topped with sugar-free jam. That will still give you a sweet fix without tons of added calories.
If you’re stopping in for a light lunch, avoid the cream-based soups and the croissant sandwiches and instead opt for a broth-based soup, some yogurt or a granola bar. It’s also best to choose a piece of whole grain toast over a bagel.
For a more concise guide to eating out at a coffee shop, click on the link below!
14. The Deli >
One of the major keys to making smarter choices at the deli is watching sodium. Many cheeses and processed meats come with substantial amounts of salt. Also, many pre-packaged meats and cheeses contain more sodium and preservatives than fresh-cut items. Definitely opt for the meat choices that are least processed.
Chicken breast and turkey are good choices, as they are low in calories and saturated fats and high in protein. Always opt for the low-sodium options and watch out for meats with the word “honey” attached to them, as this often means it has added sugar.
Avoid processed meats, such as bologna, salami and the like, come with more calories, fats and sodium than other kinds of cold cuts. Depending on the variety, they may also have flavorings, fillers and other kinds of additives that increase calories without providing more nutrients. There has also been a link to processed meats and an increased risk of cancer.
As for cheeses, ask for low-sodium and low-fat versions when they are available. Just remember the healthiest choices are always those with the highest concentration of nutrients and the fewest calories.
For a more concise guide to eating at a deli, click on the link below!
15. Tailgating Events >
With just a little bit of forethought and planning, you can still enjoy tailgating at your favorite event without totally wrecking your diet.
First, you should avoid the alcohol. In general, drinking is not recommended during the program for a lot of good reasons. You should also avoid sugary beverages like soda or even energy drinks. It’s so easy to drink a ton of calories without even realizing it—especially when you’re sitting or standing around and socializing. Instead, opt for bottled water or unsweetened iced tea.
As for food, bring along some chicken or some veggie burgers to grill instead. Or, you can opt for a small burger with no cheese. A single hot dog can also be a fine choice if you forgo the chili cheese and just opt for ketchup or mustard.
Packing your own food is easy, which makes staying on track while tailgating easier than staying on track at a restaurant where you can’t bring your own food.
For a more concise guide to eating at a tailgate, click on the link below!
16. Sporting Events >
The food choices at sporting events are seemingly endless nowadays, but there is a lot you can do at the stadium to make smarter choices and stay on track to your weight loss goal.
Beverages, especially alcohol, can be very expensive at stadiums. The best choice for your wallet and your health is just to bring a water bottle or two.
It’s also smart not to show up to the stadium hungry. Simply eat a balanced meal before game time and make sure it includes filling fiber and protein. When you get hungry during the game, opt for a chicken sandwich, small hamburger, veggie pizza, salad or frozen yogurt. You might even be able to get a hot dog, as many stadiums offer healthier versions. If they offer it, get a low-fat hot dog. Can’t find a low-fat frank? Many ball parks have veggie dogs now, too. Veggie dogs tend to be even lower in calories and fat, making them a great sporting event go-to. We know, we know: Veggie dogs just don’t have the same ring. But these guys are actually pretty good. Smothered with toppings, you might not even know the difference.
By making the right choices, you can enjoy your day at the park and still be on track when you leave.
For a more concise guide to eating at a sporting event, click on the link below!
17. Mall Food Courts >
If you’re spending the day at the mall, chances are you will get hungry at some point. Also, chances are you will smell tempting fast food or cinnamon buns, but you must resist. There are healthier alternatives even at the mall that you can choose to stay on track to your weight loss goal.
Whether it be a salad bar, pizza, Mexican or Asian cuisine, there are smart choices to be made.
When you get thirsty from walking around shopping, opt for water. The vending machines are convenient, but they are also full of sugary, high-calorie drinks; and that goes for the food court, as well. By simply choosing water, you will not only be healthier, but you will lose weight!
As a bonus to eating healthier at the mall, by walking around all day (and taking the stairs instead of the escalator) you will get your exercise in, too!
For a more concise guide to eating at a food court in the mall, click on the link below!
18. Movie Theaters >
A trip to the movies can be a great time, but with it comes the dreaded allure of the snack bar. Besides being tough on your wallet, the vastly unhealthy selection at theaters can wreak havoc on the healthy habits you’ve worked so hard to establish.
Luckily, there is an easy solution to this dilemma. You can simply eat before you go or bring your own snacks.
However, if neither of those solutions are an option, you can still make smarter choices at the movie theater snack bar. You can share a snack with your friends, get sparkling water instead of soda or get popcorn without butter.
For a more concise guide to eating at a movie theater, click on the link below!
19. Salad Bars >
Contrary to popular belief, not all salads are healthy. In fact, some salads are a weight loss nightmare. The health factor of a salad all depends on making smart choices when it comes to choosing what goes in it.
Luckily, you have all the say of what goes in your salad when you’re at the salad bar. By knowing what to avoid and being mindful of portion size, you can’t go wrong! Creamy dressings, croutons, glazed nuts and iceberg lettuce are all options you should avoid. You should also limit the amount of cheese, dried fruit and starchy veggies you add to your salad, as these can make the calorie count sky rocket.
By making the right choices, the salad bar can be a great option for your weight loss progress when you’re eating out.
For a more concise guide to eating at the salad bar, click on the link below!
Looking for some general tips for dining out? We’ve got you covered in this article: 10 Tips for Dining Out on Nutrisystem >