What to Order Off the Menu

What to Order Off the Menu

How a nutritionist dines out and detoxes

Let’s call a spade a spade: we indulged (it's true) over the holidays for what felt like a month straight, and now it’s time to pay the piper. And, while that doesn’t mean being anti-social or drinking water-only for a month, it does, however, mean being more thoughtful about what we eat, how we dine out (something we still love to do), and, in general, being more conservative about our portion size.

Ready to reset and get back to a place of feeling healthy, we tapped nutritionist Neda Varbanova for her suggestions on how to order off the menu, what to avoid and her top detox treatments for starting the year off right.


Skip the bread! When they come walking over with bread in hand, politely decline. If it's not on the table, you won't be tempted - especially if you turn up to dinner starving and more likely to overeat on the pre-dinner nibbles.

Go Green. Front-load your meal with greens! Start with a simple, clean salad without fruit or nuts, hold the dressing, sub with olive oil, and fresh lemon. Plus, ask for a side of steamed greens such as spinach, green beans, or asparagus, dressed with a touch of olive oil, lemon, and chili flakes. Most restaurants use too much butter and oil when sautéing the greens.

Sharing is caring! Go for variety without overeating by ordering three healthy appetizers and two main dishes to share with friends.

Want pasta? Get it for the table and share! If dining alone, ask for half a portion. A lot of restaurants offer this, or you can ask them to serve half and pack the other half to go. Bonus, you can have it for lunch the next day. I am a big believer in not depriving yourself and eating what you're craving. A lot of times, when you deprive yourself, you end up overeating on other healthy things but still overeating.

Carbs, but make them healthy. If you’re going for a healthy carb, balance it out with a green vegetable. Also, try delicious subs such as zucchini noodles from time to time.

This not that. Don’t be afraid to make substitutes. If you see a dish that has cheese and bacon and you'd rather avoid these ingredients, ask the waiter to remove it and substitute for something you prefer, like broccoli and avocado.

All in the prep! Look for keywords in the preparation of menu items. Foods described as crunchy, crispy, fried, sautéed, or pan-fried typically have more fat and calories. Aim for food that has descriptions like steamed, grilled, roasted, or poached.


Often, when traveling or between meetings, I find myself faced with the bar menu at a hotel lobby. First off, I dissect the menu for the various ingredients they may have available. Then, I politely ask the waiter if the chef can prepare something more suitable with the ingredients on hand based on the snacks being offered. Often they can come up with something that works.


Also, before you go out be sure to have a healthy snack at home, so you’re less tempted to pick at random passed hors d'oeuvres. Most parties are serving unhealthy items, and if you ate at noon and your party is at 6 or 7, there’s a good chance that your willpower wanes and you reach for a bite or two (or 10!). Therefore instead of reaching for another still-warm cheeseball, try leading the evening with Ella’s flax crackers with a roasted eggplant dip or cucumbers with vegan cream cheese before you go out. Your pregame snack should do double duty: stop you from getting hungry, and act as an opportunity to get more nutrients.


Detox with a lymphatic drainage massage, infrared sauna, and eat a few healthy meals at home.

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