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Is It Possible To Eat Out And Make Healthy Choices?

We eat out because it is easy, quick and fun. But is it healthy?

Nashville, Ark. – It doesn’t matter if you have a diet with special dietary concerns, or are just watching what you eat to lose weight; eating out can be a concern. Whether it’s a business meeting over lunch, carry-out dinner, or a fast-food meal, eating out is a part of our busy lives. We eat out because it’s easy, it’s quick, and it’s fun. But is it healthy?

            It can be. If you plan ahead and choose wisely, you will likely find foods that fit into your meal plan. Many restaurants are trying to meet the growing demand of diners’ health needs and provide nutrition information along with calories.

            Some restaurants offer foods lower in cholesterol, fat, and sodium, and higher in fiber. Most have fruit juice and decaffeinated coffee. Many offer reduced-calorie salad dressings, low-fat or fat-free milk, and salt substitutes.

            If you eat away from home a lot, you need to find ways to follow your meal plan as much as possible. Pick a restaurant with a variety of choices to increase your chances of finding the foods you want and order only what you need and want. Here’s how to order so that you will hopefully follow your meal plan.

  • If you don’t know what’s in a dish or don’t know the serving size, ask.
  • Try to eat the same portion as you would at home. If the serving size is larger, put the extra food in a doggie bag before you start eating, or share with someone else.
  • Ask for fish or meat broiled with no extra butter.
  • If you are on a reduced-sodium meal plan, ask that no salt be added to your food.
  • If you are a diabetic and are eating out with others, ask them to eat at your usual time.
  • Have reservations and be on time. Avoid the times when the restaurant is busiest so you won’t have to wait.

Fast food restaurants probably pose the biggest challenge when eating out. But, believe it or not, you can make healthy fast-food choices. How? Know exactly what you are ordering and plan ahead.

What you order is the key. It’s easy to eat an entire day’s worth of fat, salt, and calories in just one fast-food meal. But it’s also possible to make wise choices and eat a fairly healthy meal.

Some tips that can help you choose well include:

  • Know that an average fast-food meal runs about 685 calories. Sometimes more depending upon what you order. Determine the amount of calories in the food. Most restaurants have this readily available.
  • If ordering breakfast from a fast food restaurant, follow your diet plan. To make the healthiest choices, choose a plain bagel, toast, or English muffin. Other muffins may be loaded with sugar and fat. Add fruit juice or low-fat or fat-free milk. Order cold cereal with fat-free milk, pancakes without butter, or plain scrambled eggs. Avoid bacon and sausage. These are loaded with sodium, fat and calories.
  • Watch out for words like jumbo, giant, or deluxe. Larger portions mean more calories as well as more fat, cholesterol, and salt. Order a regular or junior-size sandwich instead.
  • Order bean burritos, soft tacos, and other non-fried items when eating Mexican fast foods. Choose chicken over beef. Avoid beans refried in lard. Pile on extra lettuce, tomatoes, and salsa. Go easy on cheese, sour cream, and guacamole. Watch out for deep – fried taco salad shells – a taco salad can have more than 1,000 calories.
  • Pizza can be a good fast-food choice. Go for thin-crust pizza with vegetable toppings. Meat and extra cheese add calories, fat, and sodium.
  • End your meal with sugar-free, fat-free frozen yogurt. Ices, sorbets, and sherbets have less fat and fewer calories than ice cream. But they are also high in sugar.

Eating out can be one of life’s great pleasures. Make the right choices, ask for what you need and balance your meals out with healthy meals at home. You can enjoy yourself and take charge of your health at the same time.

For more information on eating out, contact the Howard County Extension Office at 870-845-7517 or visit our office located on the second floor of the courthouse.

Recipe of the Week

            Here is a great way to enjoy a taste of spring. This recipe is from the Cooking With Extension cookbook. It is great for potlucks and is super easy to make.

Three Fruit Salad

1 (8 oz.) can chunk pineapple, drained

1 (11 oz.) can mandarin oranges, drained

20 green, seedless grapes washed

¼ cup chopped nuts or ¼ cup toasted coconut

            Toss pineapple, mandarin oranges, and grapes in medium bowl. Top with chopped nuts or toasted coconut. Chill. Serve. Yield 6 servings

Nutrition Information Per Serving: 100 calories, fat 3.5g, protein 1 g, carbohydrate 17g, fiber <1g, sodium 10mg

By Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
421 N. Main St, Nashville AR 71852
(870) 845-7517


The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need materials in another format, please contact your County Extension office (or other appropriate office) as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.