Eating Out Healthily

Written by Veronica Yoo

Tips for Making Smart Choices Especially for Business Meetings or Unavoidable Events


In the fast-paced world of business, where meetings and events often converge around dining tables, maintaining a healthy diet becomes a formidable challenge. Eating out, especially during business engagements, can often lead to choices more convenient than nutritious, undermining one’s health and well-being. This blog delves into the realm of smart dining: making health-conscious choices in a landscape dominated by tempting but potentially unhealthy options.

The stakes are high. In a setting where time is scarce and options seem limited, the lure of quick, calorie-dense meals is ever-present. Yet, the impact of these choices extends beyond the immediate gratification of taste. It influences our long-term health, energy levels, and even our professional performance. Thus, learning to navigate menus, understand ingredients, and make informed decisions becomes not just a matter of personal health, but a strategic component of professional success and productivity.

As we embark on this culinary journey, our goal is to equip you with the knowledge and strategies to confidently make healthful choices. Whether it’s a formal business dinner, a casual luncheon, or an unavoidable buffet, the ability to choose wisely is a skill that benefits both the waistline and the workplace. Let’s explore how to master the art of eating healthily in a world where business and dining often intersect.

Understanding Restaurant Menus

Navigating restaurant menus is akin to deciphering a complex language, especially when aiming for healthier options. While menus are designed to entice, they often conceal the true nature of the dishes offered. By understanding how to read these menus effectively, you can make choices that align with your health goals, even in a dining out scenario.

1. Deciphering Menu Descriptions:

  • Key Words to Look For: Phrases like “grilled,” “baked,” “steamed,” or “roasted” often indicate healthier cooking methods compared to “fried,” “crispy,” or “battered.” Similarly, dishes labeled as “light” or “fresh” can be better options.
  • Beware of Hidden Calories: Words like “creamy,” “rich,” or “smothered” usually signal higher calorie content due to creams, cheeses, or heavy sauces.

2. Spotting Healthier Options:

  • Prioritize Vegetables and Lean Proteins: Look for dishes that feature vegetables prominently and include lean protein sources like chicken, fish, or legumes.
  • Whole Grains over Refined: Opt for whole grains like brown rice or whole wheat pasta instead of their refined counterparts when available.
  • Balance is Key: A well-rounded meal should include a good balance of protein, vegetables, and a healthy carbohydrate source.

3. Understanding Portion Sizes:

  • Visual Cues: If nutritional information isn’t available, use visual cues. A portion of meat should be about the size of a deck of cards, and a serving of carbohydrates about the size of your fist.
  • Share or Box It: Restaurant portions are often larger than standard servings. Consider sharing dishes or asking for a box to take leftovers home.

4. Analyzing Nutritional Information:

  • Calories Aren’t Everything: While calorie count is important, also pay attention to the amounts of sodium, sugars, and saturated fats.
  • Look for Nutrient-Dense Options: Dishes high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber are often the healthiest choices.

5. Ask the Staff:

  • Don’t hesitate to ask your server for recommendations on healthier options or for clarifications on menu items.

By mastering the art of menu reading, you empower yourself to make informed and health-conscious decisions. This skill not only aids in maintaining a balanced diet but also ensures that your dining experiences are both enjoyable and aligned with your wellness goals. Remember, the menu is more than just a list of dishes; it’s a guide to making smart, health-supportive choices.

Making Smart Choices

Making smart food choices while dining out is crucial for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, particularly in business settings where meals can often be indulgent. The key to success lies in focusing on meals rich in vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, while practicing balance and moderation. Here are some strategies to help navigate the often calorie-laden landscape of restaurant menus:

1. Prioritize Nutrient-Dense Foods:

  • Vegetables First: Always start by looking for dishes with a generous portion of vegetables. They are not only low in calories but also high in essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Opt for steamed, roasted, or grilled vegetables over those that are fried or cooked in heavy sauces.
  • Lean Proteins: Choose lean protein sources such as grilled chicken, fish, tofu, or legumes. These proteins are filling and less calorie-dense compared to red meats or processed meats.
  • Whole Grains over Refined: Whenever possible, select whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat options. They provide more nutrients and fiber, keeping you fuller for longer.

2. Embrace Balance and Moderation:

  • Portion Control: Be mindful of portion sizes. If the servings are large, consider sharing a meal or asking for a half portion.
  • Balanced Plate Concept: Aim for a plate that’s half vegetables, a quarter lean protein, and a quarter whole grains. This balance ensures a variety of nutrients while helping control calorie intake.

3. Avoid High-Calorie Traps:

  • Creamy Sauces and Dressings: These are often loaded with calories and unhealthy fats. Ask for dressings and sauces on the side and use them sparingly.
  • Beware of Fried Foods: Fried items are high in calories and unhealthy fats. Opt for cooking methods like grilling, baking, or steaming instead.
  • Watch the Add-Ons: Extras like cheese, croutons, and bacon bits can quickly increase the calorie content of your meal. Choose them judiciously or skip them altogether.

4. Make Informed Choices:

  • Ask Questions: Don’t hesitate to inquire about how a dish is prepared or request modifications to make it healthier.
  • Mindful Eating: Eat slowly and savor each bite, which can help prevent overeating and enhance the dining experience.

5. Stay Hydrated:

  • Choose Water: Opt for water or unsweetened beverages over sugary drinks or high-calorie alcoholic beverages.

6. Remember, It’s About the Overall Pattern:

  • No Need for Perfection: While it’s important to make healthy choices, occasional indulgences are part of a balanced lifestyle. It’s the overall pattern of eating that counts.

By applying these tips, you can confidently make smarter, healthier choices that align with your dietary goals, even in a business dining context. Remember, the focus is on nourishing your body with what it needs while enjoying the social and culinary aspects of dining out.

Navigating Different Cuisines

Navigating different cuisines while maintaining a health-conscious diet can be a delightful yet challenging experience. Each cuisine offers its unique flavors and ingredients, and with a few smart choices, you can enjoy a variety of dishes without compromising on health. Here’s a guide to making healthier choices in some popular cuisines:

Italian Cuisine:

  • Opt for Tomato-Based Sauces: Choose dishes with tomato-based sauces over creamy ones like Alfredo to cut down on fat and calories.
  • Whole Wheat Pasta: If available, go for whole wheat pasta for added fiber.
  • Vegetable and Seafood Options: Look for dishes loaded with vegetables or lean seafood. Grilled fish or a vegetable primavera are great choices.
  • Portion Control with Pizza: If opting for pizza, choose one with a thin crust, lots of veggies, and less cheese.

Chinese Cuisine:

  • Steamed Over Fried: Choose steamed dishes, such as steamed dumplings or vegetables, over fried options.
  • Sauce on the Side: Request for sauces on the side to control the amount, as they can be high in sugar and sodium.
  • Choose Brown Rice: Opt for brown rice instead of white for more nutrients and fiber.
  • Vegetable Stir-Fries: Go for stir-fries loaded with a variety of vegetables. Be mindful of the oil used.

Indian Cuisine:

  • Tandoori Items: Choose tandoori-cooked items as they are marinated and grilled, making them healthier than curried items.
  • Avoid Creamy Curries: Be cautious of curries that are heavy on cream and butter. Opt for tomato-based or lighter curries instead.
  • Whole Grains: Choose whole grain options like roti or brown rice over naan or white rice.
  • Dahl and Legumes: Dahl (lentil soup) and dishes with chickpeas or beans are healthy and filling options.

General Tips Across Cuisines:

  • Start with a Salad: Beginning with a salad can help control hunger and ensure you get a serving of vegetables.
  • Mind the Appetizers: Choose light appetizers like soups or salads over fried items.
  • Portion Size: Be mindful of portion sizes – restaurants often serve more than one person needs.
  • Ask for Modifications: Don’t hesitate to ask for dishes to be modified to meet your dietary preferences.

By following these tips, you can enjoy the rich diversity of global cuisines while staying true to your health goals. Remember, it’s about balance and making informed choices that allow you to savor the flavors without overindulging.

Drinking Smart

Drinking smart in a business setting or any dining out scenario is as crucial as making wise food choices. Beverages, particularly alcoholic drinks, can significantly contribute to your daily calorie and sugar intake, impacting both your diet and overall health.

Choosing Healthier Beverages:

  • Opt for Water: Water is the best choice for staying hydrated without adding any calories. Sparkling water with a slice of lemon or lime can be a refreshing alternative.
  • Limit Sugary Drinks: Avoid beverages high in sugar like sodas, sweetened teas, and specialty coffees. These can be deceptively high in calories.

Alcohol and Its Impact:

  • Understand the Impact: Alcohol provides empty calories and can lower inhibitions, leading to poorer food choices. It can also interfere with your metabolism and fat burning.
  • Moderation is Key: If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For men, this means up to two drinks per day, and for women, up to one drink per day, as recommended by health authorities.

Strategies for Moderation:

  • Sip Slowly: Take your time with your drink to make it last longer.
  • Alternate with Water: Have a glass of water between alcoholic drinks to stay hydrated and reduce overall alcohol consumption.
  • Choose Lower-Calorie Options: If you opt for alcohol, choose drinks with fewer calories like light beer, wine, or spirits mixed with water or club soda.

In a business context, it’s important to remain professional and in control. Being mindful of your beverage choices not only supports your health goals but also ensures that you stay sharp and engaged in your professional interactions. Remember, the focus is on moderation and making conscious choices that align with your overall wellness objectives.

Handling Business Meetings and Events

Staying on track with healthy eating during business meetings and events requires a combination of foresight, assertiveness, and tact. These occasions often present unique challenges, from navigating buffets to handling social pressure. Here are some strategies to help you maintain your dietary goals in a business dining context:


  • Research the Venue: If possible, look up the menu in advance to plan your meal choices. Knowing what’s available can help you make informed decisions.
  • Communicate Dietary Needs: Don’t hesitate to inform the organizer of any dietary restrictions or preferences in advance. This can often be done discreetly and helps ensure suitable options are available.

At the Event:

  • Start with Small Portions: At buffets or serving tables, start with small portions. You can always go back for more if needed, but this helps prevent overeating.
  • Focus on Healthier Options: Fill your plate with vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains first. This leaves less room for high-calorie, less nutritious foods.
  • Mindful Eating: Eat slowly and engage in conversation. This not only aids in digestion but also slows down your eating pace, reducing the likelihood of overindulgence.

Handling Peer Pressure:

  • Confidently Decline: If offered something you prefer to avoid, a polite but firm “no thank you” is usually sufficient. You don’t need to explain your dietary choices unless you wish to.
  • Offer Alternatives: If someone suggests a dish or drink you’re avoiding, propose an alternative that fits your diet.
  • Stay Positive: Focus on the positive aspects of what you can eat rather than what you’re avoiding. This can help divert attention from your dietary restrictions.

Staying Balanced:

  • Moderation is Key: It’s okay to indulge occasionally, especially in a social setting. The key is not to let temporary indulgences derail your overall dietary goals.
  • Enjoy the Experience: Remember, business events are not just about food but also about networking and relationship building. Focus on the people and the conversation more than the food.

By employing these strategies, you can navigate business meetings and events with confidence, maintaining your health and dietary goals without sacrificing social engagement or professional opportunities. Remember, with a bit of planning and assertiveness, you can enjoy these occasions while staying true to your healthy eating principles.

Snacking and Appetizers

Choosing healthy snacks and appetizers can set the tone for a nutritious and satisfying meal, especially in social or business settings where the temptation to overindulge is common. Smart selections can provide a balance of flavor and nutrition, helping to curb hunger without leading to overeating. Here are some tips and recommendations for selecting light and nutritious starters:

1. Opt for Vegetable-Based Appetizers:

  • Vegetable Platters: A platter of raw or lightly steamed vegetables with a healthy dip like hummus or yogurt-based sauces can be a great start.
  • Salads: A fresh salad with a variety of vegetables, some nuts or seeds, and a light vinaigrette can be both filling and nutritious.

2. Choose Protein-Rich Options:

  • Lean Meats: Consider appetizers that include lean meats like chicken or turkey.
  • Seafood: Options like shrimp cocktail, grilled calamari, or seared tuna are protein-rich and generally lower in calories.
  • Legumes: Dishes featuring beans or lentils can be filling and provide a good source of protein and fiber.

3. Be Mindful of Preparation Methods:

  • Grilled or Baked Over Fried: Choose appetizers that are grilled, baked, or steamed instead of fried to reduce fat and calorie intake.
  • Watch for Creamy Sauces: Be cautious of dishes with heavy or creamy sauces, which can add unnecessary calories.

4. Portion Control:

  • Share with Others: Sharing appetizers can help control portion sizes and allows you to try a variety of dishes.
  • Limit the Number of Starters: Choose one or two appetizers to avoid overeating before the main course.

5. Healthy Snack Ideas:

  • Nuts and Seeds: A small handful of nuts or seeds can be a quick and healthy snack that’s rich in nutrients.
  • Fruit Pieces: Fresh fruit can be a light and refreshing option.
  • Greek Yogurt: A small serving of Greek yogurt with some berries or a sprinkle of nuts can be a nutritious snack.

6. Listen to Your Body:

  • Eat Slowly: Take your time to enjoy your appetizers, which allows your body to register fullness.
  • Assess Your Hunger: Before moving on to the main course, assess your hunger levels. Sometimes, a light appetizer can be surprisingly filling.

By choosing your snacks and appetizers wisely, you can enjoy the flavors and social aspects of dining without compromising your health goals. Remember, the key is to look for fresh, nutrient-dense options and to be mindful of portion sizes.

Desserts and Conclusion

Approaching desserts in a healthy way is an important aspect of maintaining a balanced diet, especially in the context of dining out for business meetings or events where tempting sweet treats are often in abundance. Balancing the desire for sweets with healthy choices requires mindfulness and strategy.

1. Healthier Dessert Options:

  • Fruit-Based Desserts: Look for desserts that are primarily fruit-based, like a fresh fruit salad or baked fruit with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
  • Dark Chocolate: A small piece of dark chocolate can satisfy sweet cravings without the high sugar and calorie content of larger desserts.
  • Share Your Dessert: If a more indulgent dessert tempts you, consider sharing it with a colleague. This allows you to enjoy the treat without overindulging.

2. Portion Control:

  • Small Servings: Opt for a small portion. Many restaurants offer a “petite” or “mini” dessert option which is perfect for a taste without overdoing it.

3. Mindful Eating:

  • Savor Each Bite: Eating slowly and savoring each bite can make a small amount of dessert more satisfying.
  • Assess True Desire: Before ordering, ask yourself if you really want the dessert or if it’s just a habit. Sometimes a cup of coffee or herbal tea can be a pleasant end to a meal.

Concluding Thoughts on Healthy Dining Out:

Maintaining a healthy diet while dining out, particularly during business meetings and events, is not just about the individual choices made at one meal; it’s about an overall approach to eating. By making informed choices, focusing on balance and moderation, and listening to your body’s cues, you can enjoy a variety of foods without compromising your health goals.

Remember, the key is not to deprive yourself but to find a balance that works for your lifestyle. This might mean choosing lighter meals during the day if you have a business dinner in the evening or allowing yourself an occasional indulgence. It’s also about enjoying the social experience and the pleasure of good food.

In conclusion, dining out healthily is a skill that can be cultivated with practice and mindfulness. By applying the strategies discussed, you can navigate any dining situation with confidence, making choices that support your health while still enjoying the pleasures of good food and company.

Veronica Yoo

Veronica is dedicated and experienced nutritionist and certified health coach who specializes in functional medicine, She's a published author, nutritional instructor, WBFF professional figure athlete, and both the brains and beauty behind all that Makeover Nutrition offers.

Veronica is also the President & CEO of a BC based health and wellness association; Pacific Alliance of Body Care.