Northeastern University Dining Services Blog

Monday, March 25, 2013

Avoiding Diet Busters while Dining Out

Monday, March 25, 2013 | 8:50 AM Posted by Northeastern Dining , , , , , , No comments

With assistance from Northeastern graduate student Melissa Pryputniewicz

One of the biggest challenges that people who are trying to lose weight face is dining away from home. It is very easy to control what you are eating when you are buying and preparing what goes on your dish each night. It is much harder to make good decisions when you are faced with a restaurant menu. Not only are there a large variety of options (temptation enough), but also you are often in different circumstances than when you are eating at home. You may be out with co-workers who don’t know you are on a diet or you may be over hungry after waiting for your reservation. Several studies have found that away-from-home consumption of food, especially fast food consumption, is linked to a higher intake of calories. Keep the following tips in mind to avoid diet pitfalls while you are dining out.

Cut Back on Calories
We all know that restaurant foods are high calorie items, so what are some ways that you can watch your caloric intake while still enjoying your meal?

Eat Half Now, Save Half for Later
Most dinners at restaurants are close to 1,000 calories or more. For some people that is almost their entire daily caloric intake. One of your best options to save calories is to only eat half of your meal. You can save the other half for lunch or dinner the next day (added bonus: you are getting two meals for the price of one!). If you don't think you have the willpower to only eat half, ask for a doggie bag when you get your meal. That way you can box up the second half and keep it out of sight.

Check Nutrition Information Before you Dine
In this day and age nutrition is so readily available, there really isn't any reason to be unaware of the calories you are eating. Congress passed a law in 2010 that required chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to have calorie information on menus. Start by checking the restaurant's website before hand, in case it isn’t available. From the nutrition information you can pick some of the best options out before you are even at the restaurant. But even if calorie information isn’t available, you can still view the menu on-line and pick the more healthy options out without your grumbling stomach putting its two cents in.

Drink Low or No Calorie Beverages
Here is a very simple way to cut back on calories. Swap out full calorie drinks like soda, beer, wine or smoothies for water or diet soda. This is one easy way to drop the total calories in your meal.

Focus on Lower Fat Choices
If you have nutrition information available, make sure you check out the saturated and trans fat in your dish. Fats are an important part of your diet, but you want to make sure that you aren't consuming too much, especially bad fats like saturated and trans fats. The general recommendation is to keep saturated fat to 16 grams or less and trans fat to 2 grams or less. When looking at menu descriptions try to look for steamed, broiled, baked, and grilled menu options as opposed to less healthy choices with fried, crispy, breaded, or creamy in the names or descriptions.

Bump Up Veggies
Increasing the amount of vegetables in your meal not only helps you get your recommended intake in each day, but it also helps decrease the overall calories in your meal (as long as you are smart about what vegetables you include – and French fries don't count!)
  • Substitute your side: Instead of picking French fries choose steamed vegetables or a baked potato. Make sure you ask for both with no butter. If the only option is French fries, ask if you could substitute another choice. There may be an additional charge, but it is worth the additional cost to keep your calories down.
  • Order a side salad: If your entrée doesn't come with a salad, order a small side salad. You’ll be getting a dose of veggies in while also filling your stomach so there is less room for your entrée.
  • Choose a full salad: You can always opt for a salad for your entrée. Just make sure you are making wise choices. Many entrée salads have just as many calories as some of the more traditional (and seemingly less healthy) choices. Order the dressing on the side, choose salads with lean protein choices, and skip any high calorie toppings like cheese, croutons, tortilla strips or candied fruits and nuts to make your salad a healthy choice.

Melissa Pryputniewicz is a graduate student of nutritionist Christine Clark in the MS in Applied Nutrition program through the College of Professional Studies at Northeastern University.

Nutritionist Christine Clark works with Dining Services to provide you with tips and techniques to stay healthy during your time at Northeastern. If you have any further questions about this topic or are looking for more information about any other nutrition or diet topic, such as food allergies or sports nutrition, please contact her at

  1. American Heart Association. Frequently Asked Questions About Fats. How much fat should I eat a day? Published May 21, 2010. Accessed February 28, 2013.
  2. Bowman S, Vinyard, B. Fast food consumption of U.S. adults: impact on energy and nutrient intakes and overweight status. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004;23(2):163-8.
  3. Paeratakul S., Ferdinand D., Champagne C., Ryan D, Bray G. Fast-food consumption among U.S. adults and children: dietary and nutrient intake profile. J Am Diet Assoc. 2003;103(10):1332-8.
  4. Powell L. Nguyen B, Han E. Energy intake from restaurants. Am J Prev Med. 2012;43(5):498-504.


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