How to Read a Menu Like a Pro

October 30, 2018

When dining out, how do you determine which option is the best for you? Meals consumed outside of the home tend to be higher in calories, fat, sugar, and sodium. Plus restaurant options are usually lower in vegetables, fruit, and fiber. I know I often underestimate how many calories are in a restaurant meal. And you may find that true too. So should you choose the tuna or turkey sandwich? Tacos or burrito? Black coffee or nonfat latte? Due to new labeling laws, restaurants with 20 or more locations are required to include calorie information on the menu. With this new law, identifying the best option should be easier for you. If you are unfamiliar with reading nutrition labels check out this resource:


One thing to keep an eye out for is that calories can add up quickly. Let’s say you choose a grilled chicken sandwich. That sandwich may be around 700 calories. If you add on fries, now you’re looking at about 1,050 calories. Consider choosing a salad or fruit as a side instead of fries. You could also ask for your sandwich to be either open-face (with the bread on the bottom but not on top) or without the bread at all, to decrease the overall calorie count.


Be aware of the serving size. An 8-piece order of hot wings may show you a serving size of 4 hot wings on the menu. Be sure to double the calories in this example if you end up eating all eight hot wings. Math may be required to determine total calories, but it’s worth it to make informed choices about what to order. Additionally, restaurants like California Pizza Kitchen may list calories per individual slice of pizza instead of for the entire pizza. Buyer beware!


And let’s not forget about your drinks and desserts. Be sure to account for any beverages you include in your meal, as well as sweet treats. It all adds up.


Feel free to ask questions! Restaurants may have a statement along the lines of  “additional nutritional information available upon request.” If you are interested in learning more about the options you are considering, you can always ask for more information. Specifically, you can see saturated fat, sodium, and carbohydrates. Now you are ready to dine out with confidence!


Quick Tip: Sometimes the calorie counts may be misleading. When dining out consider where the nutrients are coming from.

Example: A salad with grilled chicken, vegetables, and nuts may have 750 calories, while a cheeseburger may have 550 calories. The salad has more nutritional value than the cheeseburger. The high calories from the salad are most likely coming from the nuts and dressing. If the dressing is a creamy option, you can always opt for olive oil and vinegar.

Example: Plain 2% milk has 130 calories per cup and is rich in calcium, vitamin D, and protein. Diet soda has 0 calories and is low in nutrients. The milk is a more nutritious choice than the diet soda.

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