HEALTHY EATING: Dining tips from dietitians

By Carolyn O’Neil, for the AJC

Ever been out to dinner with a dietitian? I must confess, sometimes it
 can be a lesson in best practices for becoming a high maintenance customer — reminiscent of the deli scene in the 1980s hit movie “When Harry Met Sally…” when the character Sally was very particular about her order for pie à la mode: “I’d like the pie heated, and I don’t want the ice cream on top. I want it on the side. And I’d like strawberry instead of vanilla, if you have it. If not, then no ice cream, just whipped cream, but only if it’s real. If it’s out of a can, then nothing.”

You’ve got to admit that Sally knew what she wanted and was very specific about the details.

I’m a registered dietitian and attempt to eat as healthfully as possible and share guidance on the topic in this column.

But while dining out during the American Dietetic Association’s annual conference in Denver, I was overwhelmed with the enthusiasm of my nutrition-minded colleagues as they maneuvered the menu.

There were impassioned pleas for splitting entrees, sauce on the side, spinach steamed not creamed, salads sans croutons and probing questions about how much oil is brushed on the broiled fish.

So, here’s a roundup of real-life, dining-out advice from registered dietitians in Atlanta.

Order a low-fat shrimp cocktail to nibble with your cocktail the next time you visit an upscale bar. NICK ARROYO/AJC Special

Order a low-fat shrimp cocktail appetizer to nibble with your drink the next time you visit a restaurant bar. NICK ARROYO/AJC Special

Before you go

“Many chain restaurants offer nutritional information on the Web and many of my clients also use iPhones and can 
look up calorie information.” — Cheryl Orlansky, Georgia Dietetic Association media representative

“I believe that ‘knowing our intent’ is often crucial in making decisions; so I suggest to clients that they take a few seconds before they go into the restaurant to remind themselves of how they want to handle this eating-out excursion. That intent can then become their mission statement for that meal. They can then leave the restaurant feeling good about themselves and their ability to stick with their intention.” — Terry Hill, Nutrition for Living

For starters
“When at the restaurant bar, place an order for water at the same time as you are placing an order for your favorite alcoholic drink. While you have the bartender’s attention, include a high-protein, low-carbohydrate, low-fat appetizer like shrimp cocktail.”
 — Victoria Quaid Weaver, Atlanta Health & Medical Center

“Ask the wait staff to remove — or better yet — never bring to the table the free foods such as bread and chips. You can consume hundreds of
calories before you even get your main dish.” 
— Kimberly Glenn, registered dietitian in private practice

“Order an appetizer for your entree with a side salad to start, don’t go starving!” — Molly Paulson

On the side
“Choose only one starch when dining out. If you want the bread, skip the potato, if you want the chips, skip the beans and rice.” — Rachel Brandeis

“Challenge yourself to make the meal as colorful as possible by ordering fruits and vegetables.” 
— Kortney Parman, Emory School of Nursing

The main event
“Never assume grilled, baked or broiled means without butter or oil. Last week I ate at the Atlanta Hyatt Regency restaurant Avanzare. Their portion sizes were reasonable and the best part was the food was great, but nothing was swimming in sauce or butter. I was surprised when my dish arrived as the presentation was beautiful and the asparagus was delicious yet not soaked in anything.” — Marie Spano, sports nutritionist

“Portion sizes are wicked. Share an entree or ask the server to put half of your meal in a to-go container right away and bring you the other half to eat at the restaurant.” — Carren Sellers, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator

Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at carolyn@carolynoneil

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8 comments Add your comment


January 26th, 2010
10:06 pm

Great post! I wrote a blog post of my own just a few days ago that explains what I’ve been doing with eating out. It’s a big part of my life, even though I’m on a weight loss journey. I’ve actually been working with Rachel Brandeis, quoted in this article, and you’ll see her advice reflected in my post, too.


January 28th, 2010
12:42 pm

Here’s a novel idea. Just go to a restaurant, sit down, look at the menu, then order what you want. Exercise when you can, try not to order the most fattening thing on the menu, and don’t overeat. Life is far too short for all this anal behavior. No offense to them, but the fact that dieticians are even able to make a living shows a problem in and of itself. Just use common sense people!


January 28th, 2010
2:03 pm

I agree with Ron. Eat out once a week…get whatever you want and cook the rest of your meals at home. No matter where you go to eat, it’s going to have a lot more calories than if you made the same thing at home. Be good the whole week and reward yourself by splurging on one meal.


January 28th, 2010
3:13 pm

Ron, Js – exactly. Splurge on a normal meal when eating out, and save money by not eating out all the time. I eat light at lunch at work – a low cal frozen entree and I don’t snack on junk. I run 4 days a week.

If you are stuck eating out all the time on business, force yourself to use the treadmill in the hotel. Have a healthy/low cal breakfast and lunch (light sandwich, or soup/salad) and splurge more at dinner.


January 28th, 2010
4:42 pm

I also agree with Ron—but I AM tired of reading the SAME OLD suggestions from WHOEVER about how and what I should eat. Do something besides getting involved in other people’s business.

Kay P

January 28th, 2010
6:11 pm

Enjoyed the article. I try to be a mindful of my eating most of the time and dining out can really be a challenge. I’ll be watching for more tips. My daughters gave me a juicer for Christmas and I’ve started having a glass of green juice every evening. If you have any tips in that category, would love to hear them.


January 28th, 2010
7:36 pm

Great restaurant bar tip…great article…thanks!


May 21st, 2010
10:29 am

while ron may truly have a point… theres an overload of over-eating in america. not only that but sometimes common sense choices for eating aren’t enough to keep you healthy. like for someone with night-eating syndrome(a eating/mood/sleep disorder wher ppl starve all day and then eat too much at dinner, binge all night, are depressed, and have insomnia) just eating regularly isnt enough. you have to choose your diet wisely with proteins, fruits, veggies and good carbs. yes it would be nice if everyone could sit at a restaurant and order what they want within reason, but reality is, sometimes that doesnt make a difference in the persons weight gain and doesnt make them any healthier. and dieticians are licensed to help stop over-eating, control under-eating, and help you have a balanced diet