Food & Nutrition

49 Tips for Shopping, Dining Out, and Meal Planning

We've got your action plan for healthy eating.
Published March 30, 2017

We've got 49 expert tips and easy hacks to help you get the most out of WeightWatchers. To help make mealtime simpler, we've divided these tips into three sections: dining out, meal planning, and shopping. They offer advice on how to make the most of your Points Budget, tips for making the smartest choices at the drive-thru, and how to shop for the best and freshest ingredients. 

Dining Out

1. Use your calendar to plan low-Points meals and schedule more activity in the days leading up to the night out. This way, you can save up some (or all) of your weekly Points, and even boost your budget.

2. Hold the butter. Use olive oil on your bread, not butter. A University of Illinois study of 340 patrons in an Italian restaurant found that those diners who dipped their bread in olive oil ate an average 23 percent less bread than the butter users, and reported feeling full sooner. They escaped the bread basket with 50 fewer calories overall; olive-oil users ate an average of 264 calories in bread and oil, while butter spreaders consumed 319.

3. Start the right way. Stick with a classic appetizer: get the shrimp cocktail and save Points values.

4. Redefine surf and turf. Steamed fish and grilled chicken breast are the champs of sea and land. But be careful: "'Grilled' can mean it was 'grilled' in a frying pan with oil." Ask for it "grilled dry."

5. Plan your meals for one or two days after your special meal out. It’s easier to get back on track if you know you have some delicious meals pre-planned.

6. Decide what type of meal it is. If it’s simply a “there’s nothing in the fridge” dinner, don’t let it escalate into an over-the-top feast. Because eating out is so often associated with celebrations, it’s all too easy to turn a simple meal out into a “special” (meaning Points-busting) night out.

7. Do your research on local restaurants. If someone suggests the wing joint and you don’t want to go there but you don't have a great alternative up your sleeve, guess where you'll end up? Not familiar with a restaurant? Google it and pre-track what you want to get.

8. Pick your faves. Sometimes you’ve got enough Points in the bank that you can spend them on a great night out. If that’s the case, think about what your real “treat” restaurants are, and go for those! (Why waste Points on food that isn't worth it?) 

9. Check out the menu beforehand. Get a handle on what you'll want to order without the pressure of a waiter or your friends staring at you. (Bonus: If you already know what you're getting it's harder to be swayed by what someone else orders.) 

10. Yelp it. Read review sites for been-there, ate-that info on portion sizes, can't-miss eats, and other helpful tips. Better yet, go on Connect and see if any other members have eaten there. 

11. Narrow down your choices. Our brains can only make so many decisions a day, so if you can give yourself one less thing to have to think about, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy.

12. Ask yourself, “Is this worth it?” Is this bread really the most amazing bread ever? It’s easy to let the setting seduce you into splurging on stuff you can get anywhere, anytime. Hold out for the really exceptional food in the restaurant.

13. Tell your waiter what you're looking for. Your server is an expert—why not make the most of their knowledge? They can make healthy suggestions, let you know whether the kitchen brushes the steaks with butter, and make certain that your special requests are completed properly.

14. Memorize these buzzwords—they almost always lead to high Points values: crispy, pan-fried, sautéed, batter, breaded, au gratin, baked (Italian), curried (especially with coconut). Instead, look for grilled, broiled, steamed, poached, and au jus (cooked in its own juices).

15. Don’t be afraid to send it back. If your grilled tilapia looks oily or your steamed spinach is creamed, don’t be afraid to talk to your waiter. Your priority should be to your own health, not trying to keep the staff happy. Politely request a swap.

16. Nix the prix fixe. It’s just a fancy way of super-sizing your meal. The automatic addition of an appetizer and dessert adds Points (and is harder to resist once you’ve paid for them.) 

17. Don’t abandon tracking, even if you have to guess. Research shows that the action of tracking regularly is more important for your weight loss than how accurate it is, so a guesstimate is better than an empty space. 

18. Practice portion estimating at home. Look at the things you carry around with you—phone, wallet, credit card—and compare them in size to what you're served. Your 3 oz portion of chicken breast is pretty close to your phone, right? Get used to what a portion size looks like and use them when you’re out.

Out for Mexican

19. Chicken mole: There are many different moles, but the most popular is a silky reddish-brown sauce made with chilies and dark chocolate. 

Lighten it up: Choose chicken breast and order 1/4 cup of sauce on the side for a very tasty dish. 

20. Enchiladas verdes: Enchiladas make a heavy dish. Though the verde sauce is made with tomatillos, onion, chilies, and other peppers, the tortillas are flash-fried and stuffed with cheese, chicken or meat, then topped with sour cream and more cheese.

Lighten it up: The best filling choices are chicken or steak. Also, ask for the tortillas to be cooked in the pan, not the fryer.

Out for Italian

21. Pappardelle Bolognese: This authentic Bolognese dish has tomato sauce made with bits of pork, veal, and beef. 

Lighten it up: Switch to pasta with marinara sauce and order a small piece of chicken, pork, or veal with it. And consider ordering whole-wheat pasta when available; it has more fiber.

22. Tortelloni alla Ricotta: Stuffed pastas like ravioli and tortelloni are usually filled with ricotta cheese or meat.

Lighten it up: Avoid Alfredo and pesto sauce; marinara is a lighter choice. Or consider asking for broth instead ("en brodo"). You’ll have a delicious, authentic dish for fewer Points.

23. Risotto: Risotto is cooked slowly to attain a creamy consistency, but many chefs also add butter and cheese to make it even creamer.

Lighten it up: Order risotto with olive oil and just a pat of butter to shave off Points. Mushrooms are a great choice for flavoring, as are traditional additions of seafood, squash, peas, and saffron.

Out for Thai

24. Red Curry: If you’re in the mood for curry, red curry with vegetables is one of the better choices. This curry usually has coconut milk, but not cream. Choose vegetables or chicken over beef and try this: Eat it with a fork, not a spoon, so you're enjoying the flavor but minimizing the fat. 

25. Thai Fried Rice (Khao Phat): Thai fried rice comes bursting with the flavors of Thailand, most notably aromatic Jasmine rice. 

Lighten it up: Ask for extra vegetables to displace some of the rice. 

26. Hot and Sour Soup (Tom Yum Goong): This spicy, sour soup has many variations across Thailand and neighboring countries. The combination of prawns, chilis, and kaffir lime is a healthful choice, with one cup offering up to 24 grams of protein. (The fish paste used for flavoring can impart a lot of sodium.)

Lighten it up: This soup is a good option, but be wary of modern variations like Tom yam namkhon, which adds heavy coconut milk.

Meal planning 

27. Look at your calendar for the upcoming week. Getting an idea of how many meals you'd like to cook at home, how many lunches you (or your family) might want to tote to work or school, and how busy you'll be is an ideal way to start planning.

28. Prepare some meal components. A big batch of grains, a pot of beans, a couple quarts of homemade marinara can live in your fridge or freezer and streamline your weeknight cooking.

29. Plan for leftovers. Do weekends mean you have time for simmering a stew, roasting a whole chicken, or assembling your favorite casserole? Think of doubling those recipes or making enough so that you have at least one go-to meal for later in the week. Freezing is great for soups, stews, and casseroles. Roasts like chicken or pork will keep for about three days in the fridge, and you can use them in everything from salads to sandwiches to tacos.

30. Assemble an emergency dinner kit. Don't be caught off guard: Stock a corner of your pantry with ingredients you can throw together for a healthy meal on the fly. Ideas? Some dry spaghetti, a can of chickpeas, and a can of water-packed tuna can make a delicious Mediterranean pasta dish with just the addition of garlic, olive oil, and maybe a fresh herb. Store all the elements in a kitchen basket for easy retrieval.

31. Make some spice blends. A plain roasted chicken breast, a grilled fish filet, or even baked tofu can make a stellar dinner centerpiece with a simple seasoning blend or rub.

32. Plan for your slow cooker or Instant Pot. These appliances make dinner easier to prepare, so make sure you have the fixings on hand to load them up on your busiest weekends.

33. Think about breakfasts. Imagine your ideal morning start, whether it's a comforting bowl of oatmeal you can enjoy over the morning paper or a healthy egg wrap you can grab and reheat at the office. Making a few mornings' meals ahead and refrigerating them will help keep you on track during the week.

34. Don't forget snacks. Take the time to prepare a few go-to munchies to stash in the fridge or pantry. Cut up long-lasting veggies like carrots, cucumber, and fennel into sticks for noshing or dipping in hummus. Prepare a healthy sweet like our oat and apricot bars to take on the road. And measure and pack up snacks like nuts, trial mix, or baked chips in small zip-close bags; mark their Points on each to streamline your tracking.

35. Visit a farmers' market. Weekends are a good time to combine shopping with getting to know the producers in your area. Local, in-season produce is usually offered no more than a day or two after it's picked, meaning it's likely to stay fresher throughout the week than supermarket produce. It's also a great way to try out new items you might not be familiar with.

36. Enlist a buddy. A friend or family member with similar health or cooking goals can be an excellent source of support. Make plans batch-cook together, or agree to each make double of a different recipe and swap the extras. 


37. Get inspired by recipes. Start by visiting and thinking about favorite recipes you can adapt for healthy eating. This is a great stock-your-pantry shopping list.

38. Check sales online. Look through the weekly specials, especially for in-season produce, offered at your favorite stores. You can even sign up for sales alerts to be sent directly to your phone. Plan a few more recipes based on what's economical and seasonal.

39. Shop with a friend. Go with a pal or family member who shares your health goals or who'd like to split purchases at a wholesale club. Include a quick stop for coffee or a stroll through a park, or plan to cook or prep together afterward.

40. Bring your own bags. Sturdy bags with durable handles will make carrying your groceries more comfortable, may even earn you a small discount at stores, and will protect your food on the way home. Take an insulated bag to keep perishables fresher and frozen items ice-cold.

41. Commit to your list. Most grocery stores are designed to get you to buy more food, not less or healthier food. That's why planning is essential. Take a list—even if it's only notes on your phone—to keep yourself on track.

42. Don't shop hungry—or thirsty. You'll make better decisions when you aren't distracted by cravings.

43. For stay-at-home convenience, you can use online shopping services that deliver groceries right to your door.

44. Start with produce. You may know the formula that half your plate should be devoted to fruits and vegetables, but have you ever applied that to your grocery purchases? If not, start now. Fruits and vegetables should make up about 50% of your cart or basket.

45. Choose some long-lasting fruits and veggies. Most produce is best when eaten within a few days of purchase, but not all: Carrots, cabbage, winter squash, onions, potatoes, apples, watermelon, jicama, beets, celery, and radishes, to name a few, can last for weeks when properly stored. Stocking up on these items will give you ingredients to fall back on if you run out of more perishable items.

46. Take advantage of bulk bins. Grains, beans, nuts, dried fruits, and spices are often available in the bulk bin area of supermarkets, and they're generally less expensive than their packaged counterparts. Plus, you'll bag up just what you want and need, so you won't pay for more than you'll use.

47. Stock up on frozen and canned foods. Picking up frozen veggies, beans, and more ensures you'll always have the makings of a healthy meal. Frozen unsweetened fruits are an affordable luxury when your favorites are out of season and unseasoned frozen grains can become speedy sides on busy weeknights. Some of the veggies that hold their quality best when frozen include green peas, sweet corn, artichoke hearts, kale, and pureed butternut squash.

48. Don't forget beverages. Sparkling and infused waters, herbal teas, or even special coffee beans can add perk up your day

49. Keep the momentum going! Discover more healthy recipes to try and start planning your next trip!