4 Calorie-Cutting Tips for Eating Out at Restaurants With Friends

You can still have a great restaurant meal with friends while eating healthy, reducing calories and maintaining your health and fitness routine. Having a delicious dinner with loved ones at your favorite restaurant can be one of life’s greatest pleasures. Just because you’re keeping an eye on your calories doesn’t mean you can never eat out. Restaurants do, however, often serve large portions of high-calorie foods which can make dining out hard to stick to your healthy eating game plan.

By making some simple food swaps, focusing on your favorites and cutting calories around the edges, you can have a great meal and stay healthy too. You’ll feel better too knowing that you’re not undoing the calories you burn during your walking workouts.

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Share Big Restaurant Portions

Burger and vegetables comparison health food concept
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It’s no secret that restaurants serve two or three times the amount of food one person needs in a meal. You don’t have to finish these mega-sized portions! Portion control is crucial when it comes to watching your calories, but when eating out you often don’t have the choice of getting a smaller sized dish. Try sharing especially large main courses with a friend.

If you don’t feel comfortable sharing, or if you’re eating out alone, consider asking for a takeaway box before your meal arrives. Or, commit to eating half and taking half home. This not only saves calories but also saves money as you have a ready-to-eat meal for the next day.

Eat slowly, so you can stop when you feel satisfied and not miserably “stuffed.” Drinking water with meals is a zero-calorie option that fills up your stomach and helps you feel more full. Listen to your body and be mindful of how you’re feeling as you eat.

Swap Sides

Salad vs fries health food vs fast food concept
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If ordering french fries, mac n cheese, or mashed potatoes are a habit for you, this tip can save you major calories. You don’t need to completely deny yourself your favorite starchy carbs, but try to make them as healthy as you can. Try swapping fries for a baked potato, or asking for any toppings on the side. Use butter or sour cream as sparingly as possible.

Baked potatoes are healthier than fries as they’re not deep-fried and drenched in oil. A little bit of butter or olive oil adds a bit of fat and flavor, which can help you feel more full. You can even add broccoli or another veggie on top with some salsa. You’ll be satisfied and not feel like you’re missing out.

Remember, the main dish is usually the best, tastiest part of the meal. Let that dish really shine by picking a healthier, lower-calorie side dish.

Focus on Your (One) Favorite Thing

Family sharing pizza - hands reach for slices
Ruslan Huzau / Shutterstock

One reason people eat so many calories when eating out at restaurants is the abundance of different things to order. You may be used to ordering drinks, appetizers, a main course with a heavy side and dessert. By the end of the meal, you may feel so full that you’ve forgotten how good your favorite dish was.

Instead, build your order around your single favorite dish. This could be a main dish, like a steak or burger, a special appetizer or even dessert! Choose lower-calorie options for your other orders, or skip them entirely. If you know you’re getting a large burger, skip the appetizer and see if you can get a side salad instead of fries. If there’s a dessert you love at your favorite restaurant, skip the appetizer and order a lower-calorie main.

While some main courses or desserts are so calorie-heavy that eating just one is more than a meal, in most cases you can plan your meal around that one thing and save calories. And if that one dish is still too big, you can always take some to go!

Don’t Drink Soda, and Don’t Drink Calories

Don’t drink soda. This is a small, simple, easy tip to save a lot of calories. Soda is high in calories and sugar, doesn’t make you feel full, and usually doesn’t add to your enjoyment of your meal. Instead, swap out your soda for water when possible.

This advice extends to most beverages you’ll get when eating out. Sodas, smoothies and alcoholic drinks are fairly high in calories and tend to not be filling. Dessert drinks, like milkshakes, have extremely high-calorie counts. You’ll be better off focusing on your favorite dishes and skipping the liquid calories.

Know Before You Go

Calorie count of a meal on notepad
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Before you even step foot into the restaurant, do your research first. Most restaurants have their menus online for you to check out. Look into healthy dishes with lower calories such as grilled items, salads, and vegetables. Make sure to be aware that just because a dish is called a “salad” or “healthy” doesn’t mean it’s not actually stuffed with calories. Once you get to the restaurant, stick to your decision and order first so you’re not tempted to order something that someone else is getting.

Restaurants will almost always accommodate special requests if they’re reasonable. Ask for sauces on the side, getting burgers without cheese and ordering your favorite appetizer as a meal are also a few great calorie-saving options. The key is identifying elements of your meal that don’t really make you happier, but do add additional calories.

3-Bite Rule for Treats

3 bites calorie cutting concept chocolate mousse cake
suriyachan / Shutterstock

If you just have to order a high-calorie dessert, practice the “3-bite rule.” Limit yourself to 3 bites of your dessert, and commit to taking the rest home or sharing with a friend. You’ll usually find that the first bite of your dish is the best, and each additional bite is less amazing than the first. Take the 3 bites slowly, so that your stomach has time to let your brain know that it’s getting full.

If you find it’s difficult to stop once you take those 3 bites, try sharing your dessert with a friend. Pass it away after your 3 bites so the temptation is removed. Or ask for a takeaway box for your dessert before you order. After your 3 bites, box it up so it’s out of sight.

If you know going into the restaurant that the dessert is what you’re craving most, order a smaller or lower-cal meal and skip the appetizers. If you’re considering a high-calorie main dish, consider choosing one or the other – dessert or main – and deciding ahead of time. Being strategic with your choices can be fun, and helps you get that dish you love while feeling less guilty.


Next time you’re out to eat remember these 4 helpful calorie-saving tips. You’re spending your hard-earned money on a nice dinner, so put your smartphone down and relax. By being mindful of what you’re putting into your body you’re likely to enjoy it that much more.

Saving calories doesn’t have to be stressful or ruin your social life. Putting some thought into your choices and avoiding automatically piling on excess calories really adds up. Simply incorporate small changes into your current lifestyle and you’ll reap the benefits in the long run.

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