One Mom’s Journey from Fat to Skinny to Confident


10 Eating Out Strategies for the ‘Real World’

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I eat out. There, I said it.

What can I say? I’m a working mom married to a fast food junky. I do my best to cook most evenings. I enjoy cooking. I like knowing what goes in my meals and in my family. And there is no doubt a big part of my 70 lb. weight loss was learning how to cook lighter and healthier. GreenLiteBites was/is my outlet to share what I was/am learning.

However, I live in the real world and in the real world it’s just not possible to cook every night. In the real world you get stuck in traffic after work not getting home until 7PM. In the real world you forget to defrost something. In the real world your significant other and children don’t like what you want to make, they rather burgers or "fried chicken from the old man on the bucket" (exact quote from the 4 year old TONIGHT.) In the real world sometimes you just don’t want to mess up the kitchen or, better yet, clean up the kitchen just to cook. In the real world, sometimes, YOU just want to be waited on.

Early on in my weight loss journey I decided that if I was going to lose weight I had to do it on my terms. I tried so many times in the past to lose weight by extraordinary means that weren’t sustainable long term and guess what. . . it didn’t work. Or it did but I gained back everything and then some.

Nope. not this time. I needed to learn to navigate this real world we live in and so far I’ve been successful. I’ve been maintaing that loss for 4 years!

So here they are my 10 Eating Out Strategies for the ‘Real World’

Ask for what you want.
This seems quite obvious to me but I realize some people are fearful to do so. I actually had a conversation today with a college student who said "I wish I could ask them to make switches at restaurants." I’m like, "umm yea.. you CAN! Have you ever tried?" She genuinely looked shocked when I told her I do it all the time and that most restaurants will accommodate. It NEVER hurts to ask.
Always say “no butter”.
It’s on the veggies. It’s on the buns. It’s on the potatoes. It’s EVERYWHERE! I don’t think it’s that big of a deal but these calories add up and fast. Plus I think sometimes the butter takes away from the food itself. Since reducing my butter intake a small amount is all I need if any at all. So save yourself the calories and simply say no butter and if they give you a hard time, tell them you are lactose intolerant. Works every time.
Always ask for the dressing on the side.
You can do the fork trick if you want (dip the the fork in the dressing before taking a bite of salad) or simply pour on your own. Either way you will use a ton less then letting them dress the salad for you. Like the butter thing, you’ll start to get so used to less dressing that when you forgot to ask for it on the side the amount they put on it will shock you.
Double Veggies
At most restaurants you get two sides. A starch and a veggie is typical. Most times I will tell them to skip the potato/rice/noodles/whatever and simply replace with double vegetables. Just be sure to tell them to skip that butter! :)
Reduce the amount of bread you consume
Notice I said reduce not eliminate. Remember we live i the real world. :) Sometimes you just want bread but there are simple ways to reduce it. Some people remove the top of their burgers or sandwiches. I’m more of a ripper. I rip off most of the bun as I eat it leaving just enough to hold it together. When I get a wrap there is usually a flap of miscellaneous wrap that is unnecessary. I rip it off. If there is bread offered at the table I either send it back or have a piece and do the double veggie thing. It’s all a about compromise for me.
Split an appetizer and an entrée with a significant other. Get one fry for the table and split with the family. Want dessert? Cool. Share with friends. Most items are big enough for at least 2 if not more.
Always get a small.
I don’t care what it is. There is rarely is a reason to go any bigger. Smalls are the old large, I think we forget that. Ice cream? geesh.. go kid sized and it’s usually the perfect amount. Which reminds me always ask if there is a kids size. Many places have them but don’t advertise.
Have defaults.
In 2005, when I started my blog and weight loss journey, I wrote up my Fast Food Options page. I researched our normal go to spots and equipped myself with defaults. I don’t even look at the menus anymore. There is no question what I’m going to get. It removes all pressure.
Brothy Soups
Soups are lifesavers but you have to stick to the brothy ones. Out with friends and everyone wants an appetizer? Get a soup. You don’t feel like you are missing out and think of the calorie difference between a bowl of chicken noodle and an order of mozzarella sticks.
Skip the Cheese/Mayo/Creamy Dressings/Sour Cream/etc.
Or severely reduce them by ordering on the side. Again this comes down to additional calories that are just not needed. A burger is a burger without cheese. You may like these things and that’s fine but a little bit goes a long way.

There you have it, 10 Eating Out Strategies for the ‘Real World’ from someone who just finshed her grilled chicken breast & baked beans from KFC. I splurged on half a biscuit and split some potato wedges with the family. Not bad for a fast food dinner. Not bad at all.

I think the most important thing to remember is that you are not in an all or nothing situation (it took me 15 years to figure that out). Just because you are going to eat out doesn’t mean all bets are off. Simply order smart, enjoy your meal and have NO REGRETS.

Update: Michelle reminded me below… I forgot to ask for your practical eating tips. Please share!

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There are 33 comments so far.

    “Just because you are going to eat out doesn’t mean all bets are off. Simply order smart, enjoy your meal and have NO REGRETS.”

    OMG, Roni … I SO needed to hear that. Part of my problem the last few weeks (or months, really) has been the return of that “screw it — I already ate XXX, so I might as well keep going.”

    I need to put this quote on an index card and stick it in my purse.


    February 24, 2010

    I always wonder what is the US obession with freakin’ butter!?!?!? Do you know every since I started to lose weight (since August 2005) I hardly ever cook or use butter at all. Strange….

    Cynthia (It All Changes)

    February 24, 2010

    I love those tips and use them all the time. It’s about choices.


    February 24, 2010

    Like Amanda ^.. I hardly ever put butter or oil on anything! (Except when i make a grilled cheese sandwich its just needs a tiny bit in the pan [=) I use cooking spray for everything though! If cooking spray was never invented i dont know what i would do =P

    When i go out to eat im a terrible eater though =[.. Im an all or nothing kind of person unfortunately. Im trying to get out of being that way but its hard!


    February 24, 2010

    love these tips. i sort of do some of these when i go out. double veggies is a new one to me, good idea.


    February 24, 2010

    I am so excited to have found this site. With my busy life my family eats out at least once per week. These tips will really compliment the nutritional plan I am followingin Melonie Dodaro’s nutrition and exercise plan (outlined in her latest book “The MindBody FX Lifestyle.)”


    February 24, 2010

    Here is the comment I intended to make. You must think I’m a ditzy blond. Sorry but I’m a crazy brunette.

    Your 10 points are very good. When we were travelling in USA we often shared meals, we rarely ate bread, we almost always asked for dressing on the side because we were not used to rich, heavy dressings etc. One of our everyday comments was that serving sizes are too large so we didn’t try to empty our plates or when practical we ordered a box to place a portion of the meal in.

    I guess I’m trying to say without wanting to be rude is that there is a culture in the States of large meals with a very high fat content and a huge soda habit. Sadly this is spreading around the world and we don’t need it. Anyone who is health and weight conscious has to develop a lifestyle that cuts across this culture. I admire all you wonderful people who have chosen to make healthier choices. It can’t be easy.


    February 24, 2010

    Great tips. One you missed that I often try to do is save enough for lunch the next day. Split a meal into two if your significant other will not share with you or doesn’t like what you like. This is especially true when eating out at Italian. There is enough pasta there sometimes for 3 meals.

    Also, ordering kid’s meals at fast food restaurants is a great option for getting just the right amount. Love your sight Roni – thanks for sharing.


    February 24, 2010

    amanda – I agree! I’ve had the same stick of butter in my fridge for at least a year. The only person to use it is my husband on a baked potato now and then and my parents when they come visit. It’s funny because they’ll ask… is the this the same stick? lol



    February 24, 2010

    MargieAnn – Got rid of that comment for ya. No problem. And I agree we are obsessed with HUGE portions and soda. It drives me nuts!


    February 24, 2010

    Thanks, Roni! Great tips! You are so dang helpful and inspiring!


    February 24, 2010

    thanks roni, i hadn’t visited your fast food options page before. i agree that we have to follow a plan we know we can stick to, one that accomodates our real life, if we are going to succeed. too many times i’ve tried to do something strict and ended up “falling off the wagon.”


    February 24, 2010

    I have learned not to think of eating out as a “treat”, because when I think of it as a treat, I end up eating the greasiest, highest calorie item on the menu, given the mindset that it is a splurge. This is escpecially true on the weekends, so now, I try to frame the trip to the restaurant in the context that it’s just another meal on the meal plan, rather than a “treat”.


    February 24, 2010

    Great ideas, thanks!!

    Katie Johnson

    February 24, 2010

    We ate out yesterday and I thought of one of your older posts about eating at McDonald’s: I took off the top bun of my boca burger, asked for no mayo, ate 10 of my husbands fries and was HAPPY! Thanks for this new post. It’s going to be such a great help!


    February 24, 2010

    I eat out ALL THE TIME–it’s just our lives right now. I follow all the guidelines you mentioned plus the another one above—it’s not a treat…it’s just a meal. I tend to do better when going out to eat because the meal ends and I leave. You can find healthy (er) option almost everywhere now, too.


    February 24, 2010

    I can’t for the life of me remember where I read this (was it here?), but the idea was there are 2 types of eating out. The special occasion type where you take the opportunity to try new foods, and indulge to an extent as a food experience, and the meal replacement type where you should aim to eat a meal with roughly the same nutritional profile of what you might have at home. That concept has really helped me – I don’t feel deprived because I do have 1-2 special occasion types per month, but keeps me on track when I am eating out simply because don’t have time to cook, or am traveling, etc.


    February 24, 2010

    Thanks for the great tips! I’ll have to remind myself of these the next time I eat out :)


    February 24, 2010

    I don’t like burgers unless I can have cheese so I don’t order them at restaurants. I love Red Robin but struggle with the choice of all you can eat fries. Put a big basket of fries in front of me that is never empty and I’m like a cocker spaniel… I will eat until I burst. So, I’ve learned to order the grilled chicken salad and eat a few of my kids’ fries if they order them. (My sons don’t really like french fries… I don’t get it at all… french fries are my weakness!) I haven’t been making the best choices in eating out lately and my clothes reflect! I’ve started working out again this week and picked up subway last night. I did have mayo but cut way back. I even managed to pick up a salad for lunch today. Yum. My boys would rather have subway than just about any other fast food place.


    February 24, 2010

    Roni-these are great tips! If I’m dining out I try to find a menu online and make my choice so I do not even need to see a menu at the establishment. To me, that is sometimes just too much temptation!

    My husband and I also usually try to split a salad and entree when dining out.

    Thanks for sharing your story.


    February 24, 2010

    I never drink pop. I always order water with a lemon in it. I’ve also started checking the menu and nutrition facts of restaurants online and print them out to keep in a folder so I can check things out before I go eat.

    Yum Yucky

    February 24, 2010

    I the real world your husband won’t appreciate the self-made pork chop marinade you slaved over and would rather have the Shake ‘n Bake coating instead. Aaargh!!

    Free Weight Loss Newsletter

    February 24, 2010

    Ugh, but I love my bread so much! I love the ripping off the bun idea though.


    February 24, 2010

    Yum Yucky.. Are we married to the same man? Do not get me started. DO NOT. LMAO

    Lauren @ Eater not a runner

    February 24, 2010

    Great tips! I have learned that there is no shame in asking for what you want ;-)

    Deanna - The Unnatural Mother

    February 24, 2010

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE this post, and certainly picked up a few key tips… I never thought of the double veggie – simply brilliant!!! Roni – you are a life saver, i love visiting your bloggity blog daily for inspiration, tips – it all really!!!! THANK YOU!!!!!!!


    February 24, 2010

    I am also loving the double veggie tip, and the other tips too!
    My favorite restaurant trick is to order salsa instead of dressing. Most restaurants have it and it’s zero points and it counts as a vegie!


    February 24, 2010


    WTH – we are all married to the same man! My hubby said, “Fry chicken in thoses eight spices and it’s heaven in a box”. That’s not any WWrs idea of heaven. His family are all naturally thin and mine have high BMIs. I am determined to maintain an over 100lb weight loss after 3 years and teach our kids how to eat nutricious food. DO NOT start me with what they serve the kids in the public grade schools in California … it’s horrifying.

    One tip for people who live with candy lovers. To keep the peace at home, I had to accept hubby will have some junk at home – even though it is better for him not to eat that high calorie crap!! I only stock the treats I can resist but it took me several years to identify which ones and build a tolerance to others. :0)



    February 24, 2010

    I love your website and these tips, will check out your fast food “go to” list. I’m married to a guy who loves bad food and I have used that as an excuse for myself. You are a great example that you can live with it, work around it and be healthy. And have him as healthy as he chooses. Tough stuff! I appreciate every update!


    February 25, 2010

    It took me a while to get over the mentality of “well, I’m eating out, since I eat good at home I can have a cheeseburger and fries….”. Then I realized, I eat out 1-2 times per week! AND, it’s not like I will never have those things again. It took a while to adjust but now it’s fairly natural.

    I also tell restaurants I am lactose intolerant/allergic to dairy to have them not use butter/cream/etc. I found asking for it vs. a food allergy that they were more likely to accommodate me.


    January 3, 2011

    This is a great post. I love the list of 10 Eating Out Strategies! In regards to your fast food options page – are the points values that are reflected in that post accurate for the new PointsPlus program or should I go ahead and recalculate?


    January 3, 2011

    Thanks for pointing that out! It’s for the old. I should update!

    Amalfi Girl (EatRunHaveFun!)

    January 18, 2011

    I LOVE this tip: “Have defaults.
    In 2005, when I started my blog and weight loss journey, I wrote up my Fast Food Options page. I researched our normal go to spots and equipped myself with defaults. I don’t even look at the menus anymore. There is no question what I’m going to get. It removes all pressure. ”
    SUCH a good idea!!!