The cardinal rule of going out to eat with a nutritionist is let her order first. Better yet, ask her to point out the menu highlights (and diet pitfalls). Since not all of us have a nutritionist friend who’s willing to dine with us whenever our little hearts desire, we thought we’d consult our favorite nutritionist extraordinaire and founder of organic meal-delivery service Kore Kitchen, Meryl Pritchard. We asked Pritchard to show us how to navigate a restaurant menu like a pro. Scroll through to find out how to always place the best order!
Pritchard says to look for something fresh, seasonal, and light and skip anything fried, bread-based, or involving a lot of dairy. “You don't want to fill up on empty carbs before your main meal,” she says.
Your best bet? “Tuna tartare is usually a good, fresh, low-carb option, or hummus with crudités.”
If you’re in the mood for soup, Pritchard recommends vegan or vegetable soups. Avoid cream-based soups, like clam chowder, and cheesy soups, like French onion or broccoli cheddar.
Her top pick? Squash soup, when it’s in season. “Squash is creamy, so you feel like you are having something decadent when it's actually really healthy and fibrous.”
“Salads are a good way to fill yourself up without ingesting a lot of calories,” Pritchard says. “But the dressing is the killer, so always get it on the side and dress it yourself at the table. A simple dressing of olive oil, fresh lemon, and sea salt will do the trick!”
Your best bet? Light, farm-fresh salads without any added dairy, like parmesan. If you need the cheese, Pritchard says feta and goat are your healthiest options.
Sadly, Pritchard says you should skip your standard turkey sandwich. “Avoid deli meats, which are full of nitrates and preservatives.”
Her top pick? Anything wrapped in greens or served open-faced. “I like the collard green wraps or lettuce 'buns'—they hold the sandwich together, and they have hardly any calories,” Pritchard says. “If that's not available, ask for an open-faced option so you're not eating so much bread.”
Not surprisingly, Pritchard wants you to skip any pizzas with processed meats like pepperoni or sausage on them. Instead, load up on vegetables and ask for light cheese. “Feta and goat are better options than the melty cheeses like mozzarella,” she adds.
Her top pick? A veggie pizza on gluten-free crust.
“Pasta doesn't really have any flavor—it’s just a vehicle for the sauce, so you can use anything for the noodles,” Pritchard says. Look for a gluten-free option like brown rice, quinoa, zucchini, or kelp noodles. Choose marinara-based sauces over creamy, cheesy, or buttery ones. And order a pasta from the appetizers section—you’ll get a smaller portion that’s just as filling (plus, as Pritchard points out, it’ll be cheaper!).
Your best bet? Pasta primavera.
If the words scalloped, fried, au gratin, or cheese sauce are in the description, Pritchard says you should run in the other direction. Keep your eyes out for words like baked, roasted, grilled, organic, and grass-fed in the meat and poultry section.
Her top pick? Grilled organic chicken breast seasoned with spices, rather than in a sauce. “Spices have lots of medicinal benefits and lend a lot of flavor without all the calories,” Pritchard says.
When it comes to seafood, you want wild-caught, fresh, and preferably local (if you’re so lucky). “Ask when it was caught and if it was ever frozen,” Pritchard says. Choose grilled, baked, broiled, or steamed preparation options. “Avoid farmed salmon, because they’re raised in tightly packed pens and usually carry parasites and diseases, and Chilean sea bass and bluefin tuna, which are over-farmed and close to extinction and also are high in mercury.”
Your best bet? The grilled (wild) catch of the day. “Choose smaller fish like albacore tuna (they are smaller than bluefin and ahi tuna, and thus have less mercury), wild-caught salmon, and rainbow trout.”
Pritchard says to order something that’s steamed, boiled, or blanched. And if you’re having rice, make sure it’s brown, not white. Avoid french fries (not shocking, but still sad) and anything fried. Also beware of sautéed spinach, because it’s generally sautéed with a lot of oil or butter.
Her top pick? Grilled asparagus.
“If you're going to get a dessert, you've already made the decision to indulge a little,” Pritchard says. “So choose what you want, but don't eat the whole thing. Share it with the table and just have a couple bites. You just need a taste; you've already consumed a whole meal!”
Want more tips from top nutritionists? Check out this list of foods they’ll never eat!