How to Navigate Restaurants – Healthier Options for Holiday Dining

Over the holidays, we enjoy the company of family and friends and often times meet up at restaurants to celebrate. These gatherings often result in the average American packing on an extra 5-7 pounds!  Knowing how to navigate your way through all the deliciously tempting offerings to choose more nutritious and cost effective meals for you and your family is a skill that both your body and your wallet will appreciate. Try these nine tips that many of my clients find useful to reduce their calorie load and cost while boosting nutrition when dining out.

9 Tips for Boosting Nutrition, Battling the Bulge and Reducing the Bill

  1. Research restaurants online before you arrive to review the menu and pre-plan choices based on family preferences, cost, etc., so when the server is standing over your shoulder, you are prepared to ask questions and make choices to include more nutrient dense foods and not unintentionally add costs to your bill.
  2. Decline the kids menu. Most options designed for kids are full of very yellow and brown looking choices lacking colorful nutrition and full of added sugar and salt. Instead, order an adult portion of a meal and have the kids share it. Adult options often come with vegetables and salad options that are not available on the kids menu unless you pay an extra fee.
  3. Stick to ordering water instead of sugary sodas and juices or alcoholic beverages that can add not only extra calories but extra $ to your bill – sometimes as much as 15-20%!   It is a party after all, so if you do indulge in a glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage, drink a glass of water beforehand to quench your thirst and keep you from downing your special beverage quickly and ordering another. This extra water will also curb hunger and hydrate you to reduce chances of overeating.
  4. Go family style! Order for you and your dining partner (or entire family) so everyone can enjoy a variety of foods including their favorites and other sides like fruits and veggies that are often times packed with more nutrition. One person can order their meal with fries and others with a side salads or veggies, so everyone can have a little of everything. This practice can also reduce your overall bill by 10-15% because you don’t have to order special side dishes.
  5. Ask for substitutions. You’ll be surprised how accommodating the kitchen will be. You can ask to swap out the white rice for brown, salad for french fries, or extra veggies instead of the twice baked potato.
  6. Order dressings and sauces on the side so you, not the kitchen control how much you consume.
  7. Ask for a take home container when you order your meal, so if you are not very hungry or a large portion arrives, you can set aside some of it to eat later before you begin your meal. This helps deter overeating.
  8. Skip the bread, crackers or corn chips offered to distract you while your meal is being prepared. In fact, ask the server when you are being seated not to bring these “fillers” to the table. Instead, occupy your time with your tablemates by playing games and/or engaging in conversation while waiting for food to arrive. It is a party after all! My family always has Uno, Tic-Tac-Toe and a dice game called Left-Right-Center in the car for just such occasions.
  9. Order one dessert with several spoons. When it’s time to order dessert, consider ordering one dessert (or two if you have a party of 4 or more) and a spoon for ever member to have a taste rather than everyone having their own. This will significantly reduce your calories and refined sugar and again reduce your bill by another 10-25%!


I hope you find these tips as helpful. Over 50% of the meals we eat in the U.S. are eaten away from home, so after the holidays are over, share these tips with your friends and family so they can continue to benefit all year long.

Green Tip:

Leave reusable containers in your car, so you can take home leftovers in them instead of using a Styrofoam container for 12-24 hours that will say in a landfill for an eternity.

Published on: December 10, 2012
About the Author
Photo of Angela Stanford MBA RD RYT
Angela Stanford is a Holistic Nutritionist, Registered Dietitian and Founder of Vital Nutrition & Wellness. She offers nutrition counseling, teaches workshops combining yoga and mindful eating, and helps people start edible backyard and patio gardens. To learn more about Angela, book a FREE 15 minute consult or learn about her upcoming classes and workshops, visit
Get Dr. Greene's Wellness RecommendationsSignup now to get Dr. Greene's healing philosophy, insight into medical trends, parenting tips, seasonal highlights, and health news delivered to your inbox every month.
Add your comment

Recent Comments

I am going to start asking them to not bring bread or chips to the table before the meal… this will be challenging as everyone in our family enjoys them, but I see your point – wasted calories on not so nutricious food.

Fantastic tips.

Well written and informative. Thanks Ang!

Great tips Angela. Thank you!!