Food & Nutrition

15 easy tips for eating out

Whether it’s a special celebration or a quick meal at your local Thai restaurant, these tips will help you feel prepared.
Published 30 November 2017 | Updated 11 November 2022

15 quick tips for eating out

You’re going out to eat. Hurrah! No cooking, no washing up, plenty of choice and fun to be had with friends or family. Research shows 80% of us eat out at least once a month.

Are you eating out for convenience or a special occasion? If you need to grab something with the kids after soccer or it’s a work lunch, it’s for convenience which means you can stick to the same Points Budget as you would at home.

If it’s a special occasion, you might want to plan ahead so you can enjoy yourself! 

“Looking at the menu and tracking the meal ahead of time means you’re more likely to stick to your plan when you get to the restaurant,” says Nicole Stride, WeightWatchers® dietitian. Use your ZeroPoint foods to plan ahead. If you want to order your favourite pasta or steak dish, stick to foods with lower Points values earlier in the day.

Our experts have come up with their top tips, tricks and ideas so you can make the best choices while you enjoy your social life.

1. Share a dish

Sharing means you get to taste a little of what you fancy without going overboard. “If you’ve gone easy with your main, you can probably share a dessert, so ask for one portion and two spoons,” says dietitian Julie Gilbert.

2. Stay hydrated

Take the edge off your hunger before you go out with a small snack such as a handful of nuts and some veggie sticks. Then you won’t feel ravenous when you get to the restaurant and potentially sabotage yourself. Staying hydrated can help, too, says Leigh Sherry, accredited exercise physiologist and director of SmartLife Health. “I always make sure I have plenty of water with my meals, too,” she says. Research backs this up, with a US study finding those who drank a large glass of water before meals lost more weight than those who didn't.

3. Be the first to order

You might start out with good intentions, but by the time everyone around you has ordered, fried food and creamy desserts may get the better of you. “It’s all too easy to be swayed by what other people are doing,” says GP Dr David Ross-Smith. So stay on the safe side by ordering first.

4. Google the menu

Whether you’re in charge of the restaurant choice or not, check out the website before you go to check out what’s on offer. “Any research you do is going to give you a head start on making healthy choices,” says Dr Ross-Smith. “It’s far better to do some homework than deciding when you’re hungry and under pressure to place your order.”

5. Eat a rainbow of colours

It’s a good rule of thumb to order what you know are going to be colourful dishes, says accredited practising dietitian Maria Packard. “You’ll usually find that means they contain more vegetables, which will fill you up and contain valuable nutrients. If half your plate is made up of veggies, you’re doing well.”

6. Choose a smaller serving

“Opt for an entree size, if there’s nothing you fancy, ask for a smaller-sized version of the main you like the look of,” says Gilbert. “That way you won’t overeat, because restaurant portions can be enormous and once it’s in front of you, it can be hard to stop picking.”

7. Ask questions about the dish

“Find out how the dish you want is cooked,” says Dr Ross-Smith. “Ask as many questions as you need to determine whether it’s the healthiest choice for you.”

8. Focus on the conversation

Try to think differently about eating out. When you go out for a meal, instead of thinking about the food on the menu, focus on the people you’re catching up with the laughs, the fun and the company. Fill up on the occasion, not the food.

9. Don't be afraid to say no

Stopping the bread basket in its tracks and saying no to chips you don't really want are all good ways to make sure you stay on track, says Packard. “If it’s not there, you can’t be tempted by it. Fill up on salads and steamed veggies so you feel satisfied.”

10. Use your rollover Points

They give you more flexibility! Try to track the best you can – estimating is totally ok. Tracking before you go helps you stick to your Budget.

11. Understand the menu lingo

Smothered, rich, au gratin, glazed and creamy usually indicate higher Points. Flame-grilled, poached, smoked, baked and grilled tend to be lower in Points.

How to decode a menu

  • Alfredo - Loads of cheese and butter
  • Au Gratin - Buttery breadcrumb crust
  • Battered - Dunked in batter and fried
  • Béarnaise - Smothered in a clarified butter and egg yolk sauce
  • Breaded - Covered in breadcrumbs and fried
  • Buttery - Butter, butter and more butter
  • Crunchy or crispy - Just another way of saying ‘fried’
  • Hollandaise - Butter, butter, butter
  • Pan-fried - Another way of saying ‘fried’
  • Rich - Butter and cream
  • Tempura - Deep-fried Japanese style

12. Don’t be shy about special requests

Ask to swap chips for a salad with your main course or vegetables with balsamic vinegar instead of in butter. (Unless, of course, you want them – in which case, track and enjoy!)

13. Ask for a takeaway container

There’s no prize for finishing your food. Stop when you’re satisfied, not when you’re stuffed. Ask for a takeaway container for leftovers which staff will usually organise for you.

14. Ask for dressing on the side

Creamy dressings, croutons, bacon, avocado, nuts, and seeds are flavoursome but high in Points; a little goes a long way. Ask for them on the side so you can add as little or as much as you want.

15. Enjoy yourself!

Remember to enjoy yourself, that’s most important! If you want it, and it’s worth it to you, get it and love every bite! And if you go over, it’s OK. It’s what you do next that matters most.