What a Nutritionist Eats at a Restaurant

By Nutritional Weight & Wellness Staff
May 28, 2019

restaurantdining.jpgA frequent question we get from clients and listeners is how to navigate a night out without sacrificing your health goals. We challenged five of our nutritionists to review five menus, from national chains to local restaurants offering fairly traditional fare, and provide any tips they might recommend for your next meal out.

Nutritionist Tips for Eating Out

  1. Have a Plan – Check the restaurant’s menu online before going out in order to have a better idea of what you can order or how you can pull something together. At every meal and snack we recommend balancing your plate with a quality animal protein, good fat (butter, avocado, nuts and olives for example) and healthy carbohydrates (mostly non-starchy vegetables). We call this combination of protein, fat and carbs “the Magic Three” because it is the optimal mix to help balance your blood sugar, keep your metabolism moving, your mood stable, and give your body the nutrients it needs to function.
  2. Think Outside the Box – It doesn’t have to be an entrée; your order could be an appetizer with a salad for instance, or anything that combines the necessary protein, fat and carb that we recommended above. 
  3. Ask for Recommendations – If you have a dairy or gluten allergy or intolerance, it often helps to ask your server for their recommendations right when you sit down or see if they have a separate menu for those restrictions, which they often do.
  4. Don’t Arrive Hungry – Skipping meals prior to eating out is a surefire way to end up eating too much once you arrive at the restaurant. There’s no such thing as “saving room” before a meal because not eating will just cause your blood sugar to dip and make you desperate for anything to eat (which doesn’t lead to good food choices) and cranky (which doesn’t lead to you being a great dining companion!). Our nutritionists highly recommend a balanced afternoon snack to ensure your blood sugar is stable, and you’ll be less likely to have cravings and overeat. Check out tons of healthy snack ideas here.
  5. Understand Off-Limit Items – Our nutritionists frequently advise clients dining out to completely skip the bread, pasta, pizza and desserts. They’re just too easy to overeat, and all of those break down into a lot of sugar in the body.

What a Nutritionist Eats at a Restaurant

  • Red Cow, Burger Joint // “If I were eating out at Red Cow in St. Paul, a popular spot for handcrafted gourmet burgers, I would order the Blues Burger for my protein with the jam on the side for a fruit carb. I’d hold the coleslaw, fruit or fries that come with the burger and instead order the Garlic Butter Brussels with almonds for my fat and veggie carb.” Carolyn Suerth Hudson, RDN, LD (See full menu here.)
  • Chipotle, Mexican Chain // “As far as fast food goes, Chipotle is definitely one of the better options. I would order a salad with peppers and onions, chicken or steak, black beans, mild salsa and guacamole. I would skip the rice and the sour cream and cheese as they add too much.” Melanie Beasley, RD, LD (See full menu here.)
  • Buca di Beppo, Italian Family Style // Buca’s is different from other restaurants in that it serves meals family-style; you order a “Buca small” or “Buca large” depending on the size of your group, and then the order comes in one dish/bowl/plate to be passed around and shared. This makes it a little trickier if you’re trying to dine by yourself or with just one other person. I follow a gluten-free, dairy-free plan, so I’d order the Buca Small Apple Gorgonzola Salad & Buca Small Salmon Sorrento entrée. Hold the gorgonzola cheese on the salad. I’d also ask for the dressing on the side or bring a small jar of my own salad dressing (so I can ensure the dressing contains a healthy oil, like olive oil or avocado oil). I believe they bring olive oil and balsamic vinegar as dipping items for the bread, so this would work as a dressing item also.” Leah Kleinschrodt, MS, RD, LD (See full menu here.)
  • Applebee’s, National Chain // “I should preface this by saying that due to my multiple food allergies (gluten, soy and dairy) I often call restaurants prior to visiting so I can ask about the oils they use to cook and the surfaces that food is prepared on. If the surface has been used for meats or other items that are not gluten, soy or dairy free, there is potential for cross contamination – which due to my allergies would mean I couldn’t dine there and would have to find an alternative restaurant. However, if I called ahead to Applebee’s and they confirmed those ingredients aren’t present, then I would order the Cedar Salmon with Maple Mustard Glaze, (hold the glaze). I’d also hold the mashed potatoes and order instead a serving of steamed broccoli for my vegetable carb and request avocado for fat. The salmon would be the protein.” Marcie Vaske, MS, LN (See full menu here.)
  • French Meadow, Local Fare // “I love eating out at French Meadow due to their local, organic ingredients and great atmosphere. For dinner I would choose the Almond Encrusted Walleye main dish. I love walleye, so whenever I see it on the menu I order it (as long as it’s not breaded and deep fried). The walleye would be your protein, the organic garlic mashed potatoes and broccolini would be your healthy carbs (one starchy and one non-starchy vegetable for perfect blood sugar balance). I would also ask for butter on the side if they don’t cook the vegetables in butter already. A delicious balanced spring or summer meal!” Nikki Doering, RD, LD (See full menu here.)

And that’s a wrap; we hope you enjoy your night out! One more tip we’d be remiss without saying, whenever possible, choose restaurants that serve real food and pride themselves on sourcing organic, local ingredients. If curious, here are our four top reasons why organic food is so important.

About the author

This blog content was written by a staff member at Nutritional Weight & Wellness who is passionate about eating real food.

View all posts by Nutritional Weight & Wellness Staff


Carol Steehler
I wonder why you pass on the coleslaw at Red Cow?
May 29, 2019 at 6:13 pm


Great question! There can be hidden sugar in coleslaw and it’s likely full of refined oils.

Diane Fee
This was so incredibly helpful. As an avid NWW fan, I never tire of menu thinking. For Applebee’s ~ love “hold the glaze.”
May 29, 2019 at 8:33 pm


We're thrilled it was helpful, thanks for reading! 

Barbara Golliet
This was a great article! I would challenge you to do it again with low sodium options. So many restaurants have very high sodium content. While not everyone has a sodium restriction it is a good idea to keep it down.
November 30, 2019 at 10:51 pm


We are happy you found this article helpful. If sodium is something you want to keep an eye on when you are eating out it can be helpful to call ahead and ask so that you can plan ahead.

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