Dining Out, Without Pigging Out: Eating Out, Guilt Free

It’s no secret that dining out can be a total diet-buster. Here’s how I manage my meals when I’m not in charge of making them.

Eating out is easily one of my favorite things to do, but I don’t like to use it as an excuse to eat whatever the hell is on the menu. I try to stick with healthy (or healthy-ish) items regardless of where I am, and over the last couple of years, I’ve learned to avoid diet traps (big ole salads with everything but the kitchen sink thrown in with a boat of gravy, to boot) and opt for choices that actually offer some nutritional benefit. Here are some samples of places I regularly dine with a breakdown of popular menu items that I avoid, and what I opt for instead.

{ Joyride Taco House, Gilbert, AZ }

Joyride is a local spot for me, and I’d say I eat there about once a month. It serves up Mexican food, with an emphasis on apps and tacos, which sounds like it could be dangerous, but I never leave there feeling guilty. Here’s how I check myself before I wreck myself.


What I avoid: Nachos.

Nachos are friggin’ delicious, and I definitely have a few every now and again, but I don’t make it a regular thing. They’re usually loaded with enough cheese, guac, sour cream and beans to feed a small army, and that’s not the kind of thing I’m looking to have if I’m trying to remain even remotely healthy on a night out.

What I have instead: Guac.

Sure, guac is fatty, but it’s a helluva lot better for you than a pile of nachos and, avocados, in small-ish doses, aren’t all that bad for ya. Order a bowl, share it with the people you’re out with, and you’ll be fine.


What I avoid: Fried fish tacos.

Alright, so maybe you’re thinking that fish tacos don’t sound half as bad for you as something like, say, a chimichanga, which Joyride also has on its menu. Well…the reason for avoiding a giant, deep-fried burrito is probably fairly obvious (it’s a DEEP FRIED BURRITO for God’s sake), but maybe it’s less obvious why fried fish tacos are also a ‘no’ from me, dawg. They’re not HORRIBLE for you, but there’s really no reason to have beer-battered fish when the grilled fish option is just as tasty and filling. Plus, if you avoid the cals from the beer batter, you can have a few more chips and guac, or another marg, and that’s worth it from where I’m sitting.

What I have instead: Grilled fish, shrimp or steak tacos.

The grilled shrimp tacos at Joyride are INSANE: they’re packed with flavor and nothing about eating them feels low-cal, which makes the fact they are low-cal even better. If you’re not a fan of fish, the carne asada (grilled beef) tacos are amazing as well. In fact, my usual order is one of each.

I always request that my tacos be served on corn, not flour tortillas. They’re a lot better for ya and they taste great.

{ Charleston’s, Mesa, AZ }

Charleston’s is my family’s on-the-way-back-from-the-airport stop. Seriously. That’s how much my family travels: we have a restaurant that we pretty much only eat at when we’re on the way home from picking someone up at Sky Harbor. Basically, what that means is that I end up eating there a good bit. Probably once a month or so. They’ve got all sorts of stuff on their menu that could easily have me feeling like I’ve ruined my week at the gym, but they’ve also got some delicious options that won’t bust your calorie bank. Here’s what I eat and what I skip.


I skip them altogether. If someone I’m with wants one, I may have a few bites, but there’s nothing on the Charleston’s appetizer menu that’s even remotely nutritionally beneficial (aside from the ceviche, which no one else in my family eats), so my game plan is to get right to the main attraction.

Alright, so I love a good app as much as the next gal, but the reality is that most of us don’t pre-game our dinner with a smaller dinner when we’re at home, so why do we feel like we have to do it when we’re out? There are some places I’m just unwilling to skip an app (like at a Mexican place – gotta have my chips) but, otherwise, there’s no shame in skippin’ the app game.


What I avoid: Dynamite Shrimp Salad.

Like I said before: salads that sound healthy but are, in fact, pretty friggin’ unhealthy, are major diet traps on menus when you are out to eat. This salad not only contains fried shrimp, but it’s got not one, not two, but THREE sauces/dressings: cream sauce, sesame-ginger vinaigrette and peanut sauce. I mean, at least we know it won’t be dry, but SERIOUSLY? Who needs three dressings on a salad? I’m sure it tastes great, but I’d rather put those cals toward a glass of wine or an after-dinner treat.

What I have instead: Short Smoked Salmon or Today’s Fresh Fish.

These are actual healthy fish options, unlike the shrimp salad. These fish are prepared on the grill and served with fresh veggies. I’ve had the fish special several times and it’s always well-prepared and tasty. Most menus at a place that serves upscale American-style cuisine will have some type of fresh fish on the menu. If there’s not a fresh fish option, grilled or baked chicken is another go-to of mine.

{ Thai Chili, Gilbert, AZ }

Thai Chili is my dad and my spot for Thai food locally. It’s consistently good, and I always feel like I’m super stuffed when I leave, which is great because my meal is usually pretty darn healthy. Here’s how I get my Thai fix without over-indulging.


What I avoid: Fried Wontons.

Once again, I tend to avoid fried stuff when I’m out. I hardly ever fry anything when I’m at home cooking for myself, so I figure why seek it out when I go out to eat?

What I have instead: Thai Dumplings.

These are, technically, ‘fried,’ but they’re actually pan-fried in a small amount of oil and then steamed to finish the cooking process, so there’s not a ton of oil being retained by the dumpling dough (unlike the wontons, which are deep fried).

◊ This place has far healthier appetizer options that I could, and would happily eat (satay, fresh vegetable rolls, etc.), but these dumplings are the compromise my dad and I have made (he’d have the wontons) and it’s become our usual order, so I don’t think I’ll be having anything else any time soon!


What I avoid: Curry.

Curry is delicious, and I indulge in it from time to time but, generally, I try to avoid it. First of all, the portions at most places are HUGE: who needs a bowl of curry the size of their head? (Mike Hester, that’s who) Second: there’s a lot of coconut milk involved in some of my favorite curries and, despite what Starbucks may have you believe, it’s actually, like, the WORST milk for ya when it comes to calories. ONE CUP of unsweetened coconut milk has almost 600 CALORIES. That’s more cals than my ENTIRE dinner usually has. No thanks.

What I have instead: Spicy Basil with Tofu or Chicken, or Spicy Eggplant in Garlic Sauce.

These dishes are lighter on the sauce, and have no coconut milk (a/k/a ice cream…I mean, seriously) but have all the great Thai flavors I look for when I’m eating that type of food. They’re filling, spicy, garlicky and fresh, and I love that they’re still fairly healthy, to boot.

◊ I usually skip the rice, but that’s a personal thing: if I eat the rice, I get too full to finish the rest of my meal, so I opt to finish the veggies and meat instead.


There’s nothing shocking about the choices I make when I go out when it comes to what’s healthy and what’s not. I mean, it’s no surprise to anyone that Ranch dressing, while totally delicious, is not health food, right? And I think most people recognize that fish is usually a pretty healthy option. For me, it’s really just about recognizing what I’m eating, instead of going crazy because I’m out and want to enjoy my meal. I don’t get too crazy with any ‘rules,’ either: I usually have a drink or two while I’m out to eat, and if I’m with someone who wants to share a dessert, I go for it (just not every time). These are just some examples of easy switches you can make to ensure that you don’t beat yourself up about going out to eat, because dining out is a total treat and there’s no reason it can’t be be something that we can enjoy, guilt-free.

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