Monday, September 29, 2014


Five healthy questions to ask when eating out

If KFC’s “Double Down” sandwich has taught us anything, it’s that there is nothing nutritionally sacred when it comes to restaurants. If something is good, it can only get better by adding more butter, salt, cheese and bacon, right? 

Some restaurants will go to great lengths to get customers through their doors, committing some pretty amazing dietary debauchery along the way. But on the flip side, most will go to the same lengths to provide healthier options if you just know how to talk to the waitstaff. Here are some great questions to ask your server.

1) “Could I have water, please?”
Starting with a calorie-free beverage should be a no-brainer. And while artificially sweetened soft drinks technically fit the bill, good ol’ water will always win the healthy beverage choice award. If you would like a little something sweet to sip, consider getting a small juice along with your water and drink it slowly along with your meal.  

2) “What are your healthiest menu options?”
Servers usually know the menu inside and out, backwards, forwards and sideways. They know exactly how the food is prepared, so why not enlist their help?

3) “Do you offer lunch portions?” 
Enormous portions are one of the most egregious sins of restaurants today. But you need not fall victim to the mountain of mashed potatoes on your plate! There are a number of ways to minimize your portions when eating out. You can request a smaller lunch portion as suggested above, or share your meal with a dining companion. If no one else in your party shares your enthusiasm for limburger-anchovy pickled pigs feet, simply ask your server for a container and set aside half of the meal to take home. Just don’t expect a future dinner invite...

4) “May I substitute a salad or steamed vegetables for (insert deep-fried side here)?”
Most restaurants are more than willing to make these substitutions. And while you may be charged a tiny bit more, think of it as an investment in your health. What is your health worth to you?

5) “Can my meal be prepared with no added salt?”
Restaurants are notorious for the sky-high sodium content of their foods. But you can take control by asking that your food be prepared with no added salt or unnecessary fat and working with the staff to create a delicious meal that you can still feel good about. 

These are just a few ways to advocate for your dietary needs at restaurants. We all like to eat out from time to time, but we need not just accept the salt-laden, fat-drenched status quo. 

Oh, and when asking all of these questions, please don’t forget to be courteous to your server! They are handling your food, after all.

Jennifer Fetterley is a registered dietitian for the Backus Health System and Thames Valley Council for Community Action. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Fetterley or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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