Jan 9, 2018, 9:42:32 AM CST Mar 17, 2023, 7:58:03 PM CDT

How to choose healthy options when eating out

For many parents, it's impossible to cook meals at home every single day. See seven simple ways to help your family make healthy choices when eating out.

Family eating out together Family eating out together

Although a home-cooked meal is almost always healthier than eating meals from restaurants, there are easy ways you and your family can enjoy a meal out while keeping your health top of mind. So whether you’re too busy to cook that night or you’re enjoying a special occasion out, see these seven tips from Children’s Health℠ dietitians to help your family make smart choices when ordering off a fast-food or restaurant menu.

  1. Know before you go! Some restaurants offer nutrition information online. Take a quick look at the menu online and plan your meal ahead of time. Look for food items that are lower in calories, saturated fat and sugar.
  2. Grilled over fried; chicken over beef; mustard over mayonnaise. Choosing meals that are grilled, boiled, steamed and baked contain less saturated fat than breaded, fried. Lower fat meats include chicken breast, turkey breast and fish. Two tablespoons of mustard have 0 grams of fat while mayonnaise has over 20 grams of fat!
  3. Surprise! Not all salads are healthy. Salads can be one of the best options, if they are full of mostly veggies, fruit and low-fat meat. Avoid choosing salads that include cheese, bacon, tortilla chips or croutons. Ask for a “light” dressing or vinaigrette dressing and ask for it on the side.
  4. Size matters. A single regular size meal may contain more calories than your child needs. Order a kid’s meal when available or share meals with other family members.
  5. Swap your sides – no more fries!  More restaurants are now providing healthier side options including a small salad, a fruit, applesauce, low-fat yogurt, baked potato or baked chips.
  6. Rethink your drink. Soda, fruit punch, lemonade, chocolate milk and juice (even 100% fruit juice) are full of sugar and provide little nutrition to our bodies. Choose water, low-fat milk or unsweetened tea. Carry sugar-free flavoring packets such as Crystal Light in your car to add flavor to your water if wanted.
  7. What’s your tummy saying? Encourage your child to listen to their hunger and fullness signals. If they are satisfied, they can always save their food for later – do not force your child to finish their food.

At-a glance: Your best bets for fast food alternatives


Choose this…

Not this…

Burger Chains

  • Regular, single-patty hamburger OR grilled chicken sandwich on whole grain bread with mustard and vegetables (lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles)
  • 1 healthy side: Small salad, fruit cup or fruit slices, applesauce, low-fat yogurt, baked potato or baked chips.
  • Double patties, cheese, bacon, special sauces and mayonnaise Breaded, crispy chicken sandwiches
  • French Fries, regular chips

Sandwich Chains

  • Six-inch sandwich bread
  • Whole-grain or whole-wheat bread
  • Lean meat (turkey, roast beef or chicken breast) and/or veggies
  • Mustard or vinaigrette
  • Foot-long or large sandwiches – unless you’re sharing!
  • White bread, cheese breads
  • Tuna salad (full of mayonnaise), bacon, meatballs or steak Mayonnaise, Ranch, Caesar dressing or other creamy dressings

Mexican Food Chains

  • Grilled chicken on a soft corn tortilla or salad
  • Black beans
  • Salsa
  • Crispy tacos
  • Refried beans
  • Cheese dip

See more healthy food swaps to help cut back on calories and reduce sugar intake without sacrificing flavor. 

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Learn More

Is your child a picky eater? Check out these easy tips for introducing new foods and expanding your family’s nutritional horizons. Plus, learn more about our pediatric weight management programs and services.

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