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Eating Healthy at Restaurants

Going out to eat is inevitable in our day and age. It can be a great time to connect with friends and family and enjoy a meal prepared by someone else. But for those who are being conscious about what they eat, it can be a big stressor. 

The 10% rule

I like to live by the ‘10%’ rule, where I allow 10% of my meals to be flexible. I can eat clean and healthy 90% of my time, especially during the week when I eat at home. But if 10% of that is eating out and giving myself a ‘splurge’ within boundaries, I’m okay with that. 

I still try to not eat the things I know will make me feel bad. If I indulged in the free bread basket, I know I would end up feeling bloated and have a headache, so I can pass on that. It’s important to prioritize what will ultimately make you and your body feel good. I like to say: Create healthy habits, not restrictions.

Be high maintenance

It’s okay to ask for what you want, in life and at restaurants! Especially now, most restaurants are equipped to accommodate dietary preferences and you just need to ask.

If asking a slew of questions with your friends and family still seems uncomfortable, look at an online menu or call ahead to get an idea of what the restaurant offers. There is a lot of great information available for you to be prepared.

Communicate with respect and gratitude

With that being said, you can be high maintenance and also be respectful. Treat restaurant staff the way you would want to be treated, simple as that! Expressing gratitude to not only your server but to those who prepare your food can go far. Make it known that you appreciate being accommodated to, and speak this out loud. It feels good to have our needs met, share that! (And I might add, as a past server myself, a healthy tip speaks gratitude the loudest 😉)

Be okay with not being perfect

Going out to eat is a part of life. Enjoy the process of connecting over a meal, something that humans have done for thousands of years. It’s a beautiful ritual that we need not stress over. Make that your focus rather than having the perfect ‘healthy’ meal.

Tips for eating cleaner at restaurants:

  1. Ask for salads dry and either bring your own salad dressing or just use olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

  2. Ask for a box at the beginning of the meal or bring your own to-go container. Portions at restaurants tend to be a lot bigger than we need, this helps you not overeat and also gives you leftovers for another meal!

  3. Look for the vegetarian options, even if you regularly eat meat. These often have lots of vegetables and are more likely to be on the ‘healthier’ side.

  4. If the restaurant has breakfast or brunch options, these can be great options to get a good protein, vegetable, and carb (just skip the pancakes and waffles ;))

  5. Try ordering a burger without the bun and substitute vegetables for the fries

  6. Look for dark greens like kale, broccoli, and asparagus. Ask for steamed or raw as an option as these will have the least amount of oil, butter, or salt. 

  7. Request extra veggies, or replace grains like rice or breads with vegetables

  8. Request for ‘Sauce on the side’ if it makes sense, bringing you a sense of control on how much of the sauce (which are many times made with extra sugar) you put on your meal.

Some of my favorite restaurants in the Ozarks area:

  1. Farmer’s Gastropub – They source most of their food locally and have great vegetarian and gluten-free options

  2. Mama Jean’s Deli – This is my go-to lunch spot when I am meeting someone. They have fresh salads and sandwiches, juices and smoothies. As a bonus, you can pick up any organic groceries while you’re there 😊

  3. Lucky’s Market – Similar to Mama Jeans, Lucky’s offers fresh-made sandwiches and Ramen and also has an extensive salad and olive bar.

  4. Tea Bar and Bites – Light café foods, a favorite of my daughters and mine.

  5. Koriya

  6. Café Cusco – One of my favorite restaurants in Springfield. Peruvian inspired dishes, they have a wide variety of gluten-free and vegan options. A great night out!

  7. B2 Café – Owned by Bambino’s, this cafe offers great fresh juices and smoothies and light fare.

  8. BYOP – My daughter loves to go here to ‘Build Your Own Pizza’. While it’s not necessarily the MOST healthy choice, it can be a fun family outing that also gives you some control. They have gluten-free crust and dairy-free cheeses, as well as plenty of vegetable toppings.

  9. Metropolitan Grill

  10. Harvest Missouri

  11. The Little Farm Store – In Mansfield Missouri

Brandy Hickman, CHHC, AADP, D.Psc

Owner, Inspired Nutrition, Health & Life Coach


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