Getty: Alexander Spatari

If you have a hard time sticking to your fruit- and vegetable-eating goals when dining out, our dietitian is here to help with simple tips.

Maureen Callahan
January 19, 2018

Now more than ever, it’s a lot easier to find fruits and veggies on fast food and restaurant menus, but sometimes the selection is nothing to gush about. Or even worse, the portions take a magnifying glass to locate. But just because you're not at home doesn't mean like you have to eat like you would in your own kitchen. 

New Year. New Food. Healthy eating starts here, with the Cooking Light Diet.

Not meeting your suggested daily servings of vegetables? Go big. Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables and, if you can, add a little bit of fruit. Here are 9 simple ways to reach that goal.

Go a la carte:

Scan “Side” and “Appetizer” sections of the menu for vegetable-rich offerings, preferably ones that center on vegetables prepared in a healthy way—steamed, roasted, or grilled.

Mix ‘n’ Match:

Notice grilled vegetables or steamed carrots listed with an entrée you don’t plan to order? Ask to make it an a la carte side. You’ll probably need to pay extra, but the portion will likely be ample.

Open with Salad:

Getty: Morsa Images

Noshing on a raw bowl of veggies is a fast way to boost your produce count. Just go easy on the creamy stuff like coleslaw. Added bonus: Penn State scientists find people who eat salad before a meal end up eating less.

Soup it Up:

Photo: Caitlin Bensel

White bean soup, split pea soup, carrot-ginger soup—any soup that is chock-full of vegetables can count as a vegetable serving. One hitch: Cream-based soups, usually called bisques, are more cream (or should we say fat) than vegetable, so steer clear. 

Rock the Vegetarian Offerings:

Scott Rounds

Consider ordering a vegetarian dish as your main course. Don’t see any? Ask if the chef can honor vegetarian requests. Let your server find out what veggies are in the kitchen and order away.

Double It, Please: 

Caitlin Bensel

Veggies that accompany most entrées are notoriously skimpy, so ask to double or triple the portion. Offer to pay for it, but chances are good you probably won’t be charged.

Make it a Stir-Fry: 

Greg DuPree

It seems almost obvious, but most stir-fries naturally contain less meat and more veggies. If a stir-fry isn’t on the menu, ask if the chef can saute or stir-fry a medley of vegetables.

Have it Your Way:

Greg DuPree

Menu items aren’t carved in stone. Ask and you’ll probably receive. Build a pizza with more vegetables and less cheese. Add extra veggies--cucumbers, sprouts, and roasted bell peppers--to a sandwich. Substitute steamed broccoli for the fries.

Ask about Fruit:

Photo: Greg DuPree

Substitute sliced apples, oranges, or grapes for chips with a sandwich meal. Even if it’s not on the menu, most restaurants have fresh fruit (usually used for garnish) in the kitchen.