Eating out and eating healthy? It’s possible, but not always easy.

Should you get soup, a salad, or a sandwich? What kind of milk is best for lattes? The list goes on. And while chain restaurants are now putting calories on their menus (yes!), what about the rest?

Here are some of our top tips for trimming calories and boosting nutrients.

How to survive almost any restaurant

  • Bypass the appetizer. Why order 1,000 calories before dinner? Start with a green salad instead.
  • Veg out. Fill half your plate with fruit or vegetables (potatoes don’t count). Make the rest lean protein and whole grains.
  • Skip soup. Just a cup of soup at Panera is typically 650 to 1,000 milligrams of sodium. A salad usually means less sodium and more potassium-rich veggies.
  • Doggy bag it. Order a lunch portion, take home half for tomorrow, or split an entrée with a friend.
  • Ditch the complimentary bread or chips. Leave the bread in the basket. At many restaurants, that saves you about 150 to 300 calories’ worth of white flour and carbs.

Create a more nutritious salad

  • Choose darker greens. Any greens are good greens, but darker greens like spinach pack more nutrients per serving than romaine or iceberg.
  • Pick a good protein. Look for egg whites, egg slices, grilled tofu, tuna, beans, chicken, or seafood.
  • Cut the cheese. It adds calories and saturated fat, plus sodium. (And some cheeses—like feta and blue cheese—add more sodium than most.) Do you need it?
  • Pour on veggies and fresh fruit. Nutrient-dense toppings—like broccoli, carrots, chickpeas, black beans, edamame, roasted peppers, blueberries, mango, and strawber­ries—are a bargain.  
  • Hold the crispy wontons or croutons. They’re oily refined flour. Also hold the salty olives and bacon.
  • Get half the dressing (or get it on the side). A half serving of dressing saves calories and sodium.

Build a better sandwich

  • Ask for a sandwich with whole wheat bread. Keep in mind that “multigrain” may mean more white flour than whole.
  • Avoid wraps unless they’re whole grain. They can have as many calories as white bread.
  • If you’re craving a sandwich, get a half sandwich plus a half salad instead.
  • Go for a side like apples or carrots, not bread. You get extra produce and fiber, not white-flour carbs.
  • Ask for a lettuce wrap. Lose the refined grains by wrapping your sandwich in greens. Or order a whole salad to rack up some veggies instead of bread.

Order a lower-sugar coffee drink

  • Choose nonfat milk. A 16 oz. latte from Starbucks has just 130 calories, no sat fat, and 13 grams of protein. Don’t like nonfat? Ask for half nonfat, half 2% milk.
  • Non-dairy milks have pros and cons. Soy milk provides around 8 grams of protein per cup, but some coffee shops use brands that have added sugar. Almond milk may have less sugar, but also less protein. Avoid coconut milk. It’s low in protein (just a gram or less per cup) and high in saturated fat (around 5 grams per cup).
  • Skip the whipped cream to save at least 70 calories and 4 grams of sat fat in a medium drink.
  • Skip the syrup. Sugar-free syrups may be made with unsafe sweeteners. If you can’t live without the syrup, ask for a single pump of regular syrup to cut back on the sugar.
  • Order brewed coffee. Using a packet of sugar adds around 20 calories.

Photos: © Mara Zemgaliete/, Jennifer Urban/CSPI, Leah Ettman/CSPI, © karandaev/