Eating out can be difficult for folks looking to meet their daily nutritional needs. These needs can include macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), or both.
The experience doesn’t have to be stressful. At many eateries, there are often a few nutrient-dense options available — you just need to know what to look for.
Personally, when I go out to eat, I always try to opt for meals that include some sort of raw green salad to start, a ton of cooked veggies, and a healthy protein source. That way, I get a good balance of macronutrients and as many micronutrients in as possible.
Regardless of whether you’re headed to a restaurant, a movie theater, or even a sports game, if you’re looking to make your meals as nutrient-dense as possible, we’ve got you covered with these four straightforward menu swaps.
Eat more veggies by swapping out chips for crudités
There’s nothing better at a Mexican restaurant than a massive bowl of guacamole. Usually this comes with a mountain of freshly baked and salted tortilla chips. Yum!
While very delicious, tortilla chips can fill you up fairly quickly without lending much nutritional value to your diet. A great way to counter this is to ask for crudités, or raw veggies, either to accompany the chips or as a replacement.
Raw vegetables contain tons of fiber, enzymes, and antioxidants, making them a great go-to the next time you’re out. They also can help deter overeating when paired with chips and guac. Veggies go well with other kinds of dips, like hummus, tzatziki, baba ganoush, and salsa as well.
Increase your potassium intake by swapping out buns and sandwich bread for lettuce wraps
Lettuce wraps make a great alternative to bread and buns for sandwiches, tacos, and burgers.
Lettuce is full of fiber and nutrients like potassium, calcium, and folate. And during these hot summer months, lettuce is also a great option because of its high water content.
My favorite trick is using Butter lettuce cups as burger buns and taco shells. So, whether you’re at a sports game or a restaurant and want to skip the buns or sandwich bread, consider opting for lettuce instead.
Get in a dose of vitamin A by swapping out regular fries for baked sweet potato fries
French fries are delicious, there’s no doubt about that. But if you’re looking for something that’s more nutrient-dense, a great alternative is baked sweet potato fries.
In addition to also being super delicious, sweet potatoes are great if you’re looking to increase your fiber and vitamin A intake.
Add more whole grains by swapping out white rice for quinoa or brown rice
Let’s be honest — white rice is a yummy part of a number of dishes, from sushi to bibimbap. If you’re looking to up your fiber intake, swapping out white rice for brown rice or quinoa is one great way to do this.
Both brown rice and quinoa are also high in various micronutrients, from manganese to potassium, making them a nutritious and filling alternative, if that’s what you’re looking for.
It's possible to meet your nutritional needs when you’re eating out
Whether you’re looking to hit your macros or you’re hoping to get more fiber in your diet, it’s possible to do all this even when eating out. And having a toolkit of different food swaps can help make this process less stressful.
Next time you’re out for a meal, use this guide to remove some of the guesswork and guide you to what to choose from the menu.
Nathalie is a registered dietitian and functional medicine nutritionist with a BA in psychology from Cornell University and a MS in clinical nutrition from New York University. She’s the founder of Nutrition by Nathalie LLC, a private nutrition practice in New York City focusing on health and wellness using an integrative approach, and All Good Eats, a social media health and wellness brand. When she isn’t working with her clients or on media projects, you can find her traveling with her husband and their mini-Aussie, Brady.
Additional research, writing and editing contributed by Sarah Wenig.