How to: Eat Out on a “Budget”

by | Mar 20, 2019 | Last updated Feb 15, 2022

Picture this scenario: You’re focusing on staying within your calorie budget but don’t want to sacrifice your family’s weekly outing for pizza, or maybe you have 3 kids and multiple sports practices to shuttle them to and from each evening so dinner 3-4 nights of the week is out at a restaurant. Does this sound all too familiar? If so, this article is for you! What if I told you staying within your calorie budget while eating some meals out CAN be done?

Now, it does take some planning and some changes may need to be made to your typical order, but staying within a calorie budget doesn’t have to mean prepping every meal at home from scratch or sacrificing the social outings you enjoy! Below are my 5 favorite tricks and tips for staying within a calorie budget while eating out:

  1. Focus on the fruits and veggies aka “green foods” first! Choose an order full of foods like veggies, fruit, nonfat dairy, and whole grains and eat these foods first! For example, choose a veggie-based meal like a salad or choose sides such as steamed veggies, fruit salad, or a side salad.
  2. Choose lean proteins and be mindful of how they are prepared. When eating out, look for proteins that are baked or grilled, rather than fried or sautéed. Although all foods can fit into a healthy diet in moderation, choosing a baked or grilled protein tends to mean it will be a little less calorie dense. For example, look for menu items like “grilled chicken” or “baked salmon.” If you’re having pizza choose a leaner protein topping, like grilled chicken or ham rather than pepperoni or bacon.  
  3. Focus on hydration! Liquid calories can be sneaky and when we’re out with unlimited refills, so sticking with water is an easy way to not only stay hydrated (hooray!) but also save those calories for foods that will fill you up! Beverages like unsweetened tea, herbal tea, or water are all great choices to help meet your hydration goal without adding extra calories or added sugar.
  4. Plan ahead. Take a peek at the restaurant menu ahead of time online to see what the restaurant has to offer, you can even log your meal ahead of time, before arriving at the restaurant, to see how it fits into your day! For example, if you are heading out for dinner, log all your meals for the day first thing in the morning to see if what you plan to order at dinner will fit in your budget with your breakfast, lunch, and snacks all taken into consideration.  
  5. Be mindful of portions. Let’s say you are going out to eat but a salad with grilled chicken is not on the menu (or you want to enjoy some pizza). The food you are ordering may end up including more calorie dense options. That’s ok! They can fit on occasion! This is a time where portion control can really be key. When using the Noom color system it’s important to remember red foods aren’t bad, they are just more calorically dense, so we have to enjoy them in moderation. Enjoying one or two pieces of pizza instead of four is still a change and those small changes can lead to big progress toward your goals!

Looking for some examples or more tips? While we know restaurant menus can change, here are some of our favorite options at a few larger chains across the country:

Here are a few more tips to help make healthy choices while eating out.

Author: Elizabeth Hurley, MS, RD, LDN, CSCS