I used to be a health nut. When I say nut, I mean I tracked every calorie I ate and planned out all my meals and exercise times. I ate everything in its low-fat form and practically never consumed carbohydrates. Going out to dinner stressed me out because I was worried that I wouldn’t find a healthy option on the menu.

I’m not like this any more, which I consider a very good thing, but I still learned some worthwhile tricks during my health-obsessed times on how to make small changes in order to make any meal healthier. You can change things about practically any meal to make it more health-friendly. However, if it’s just one of those days where you really want that bacon double cheeseburger, then just go for it. Sometimes it’s good to just treat yo self.

1. Ask For Dressing on the Side


Photo by Kavitha George

One thing I find is that restaurants tend to slather salads with dressings. Instead, order the dressing on the side and just add as much as you’d like. I usually start with half or less of the container and if I find it needs more dressing, then I begin to add more. Don’t add it all at once, that defeats the purpose of ordering it on the side.

2. Choose Steamed Over Sautéed


Photo courtesy of bettycrocker.com

This often applies to Chinese restaurants, where you can get chicken with vegetables or you can get chicken with “steamed” vegetables. Steamed means they are plain, cooked vegetables. Usually when a chef makes sautéed vegetables, they use lots of butter and oil. Now I’m not complaining about that, but it makes the vegetables much more unhealthy than they are in their plain cooked form.

3. Easy on the Cheese


Photo by Kylie Kinder

We all love cheese, I’m with you on that. But when it comes down to calories, cheese isn’t our best friend. Whether it’s feta on top of a salad or Swiss on your burger, skipping the cheese will make a big difference in calories. If you just want a little bit of cheese, you can always ask for it on the side as well.

4. Order an Appetizer as an Entrée


Photo by Hui Lin

At some restaurants, you can’t really get away with this, like the really upscale restaurants where you pay 10x more for 10x less food. But most of the time an appetizer will do just fine in terms of filling you up. They are usually quite large. For example, I would oftentimes get a soup labeled as an appetizer as my meal. Another option is to share an entrée.

5. Pick Grilled Over Fried


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Grilled meats are much healthier for you then fried meats, which have excess fat from the oil they are fried in. Instead of ordering crispy chicken tenders, as wonderfully delicious as they are, try ordering grilled chicken or grilled salmon. Another example is fried or coconut shrimp, which is much less healthy than grilled shrimp or a shrimp cocktail.

6. Skip the Bun/Bread


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If you’re ordering a burger, get it without the bun and eat it with a fork and knife. I know this probably doesn’t overly excite you, but the bun adds 150+ empty calories. If you order a sandwich, eat it without the bread. May sound crazy, but I’ve done it and it’s quite tasty. It’s like a tastier, meatier salad.

7. Steer Clear of Creamy Soups and Dressings


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Soups like clam chowder and cream of broccoli that are thick and cream-based are loaded with fat and calories. Instead, soups like tomato soup or chicken noodle are broth-based and contain much fewer calories. The same is true for salad dressings. Ranch and Caesar salad dressings are thick and heavy, meaning they’re going to be much fattier than salad dressings like Italian or balsamic vinaigrette (my personal favorite).

8. Substitute Fries for Something Else


Photo by Ben Rosenstock

A lot of restaurants will automatically give you fries as a side on a lot of meals. Instead, try asking to substitute it for something else, like vegetables. Even a baked potato is healthier, as long as you don’t slather it with sour cream, butter, and cheese.

9. Watch Out For Nuts, Avocado, and Bacon


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It’s okay to have some avocado or nuts on your salad, as these are healthy fats. Even a little bit of bacon is okay, but all three of these together make for a very fatty salad. Especially watch out for candied nuts, which are cooked with sugar until they form a caramelized layer around the nut. Delicious, don’t get me wrong. But healthy? Not so much.