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Sticking to 100 Calorie Options When Eating Out: 10 Smart Tips

Recently, more Americans are choosing to eat out instead of cooking at home, changing their dining habits significantly.  

In 2023, a survey by U.S. Foods found that the average American eats out three times a month and gets delivery 4.5 times a month. This trend is mainly because of the convenience and freedom from cooking and cleanup. The survey also revealed that 60% of these meals included fast food.

Given this shift, it's not surprising that more than two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or have obesity. Restaurant meals are often high in calories and can quickly derail your health and weight loss goals. 

For example, a fast-food cheeseburger can add 500 calories to your daily intake, and a large order of fries can add 400 calories. Salads can be high in calories if they have fatty dressings, cheese, and croutons. This can add 300-500 calories to your meal.

Therefore, being mindful of your choices when eating out is crucial. This article will give tips and examples for finding and enjoying 100-calorie restaurant options.

Learn how to choose low-calorie options from menus, make informed requests when ordering, and enjoy delicious meals while adhering to your health and fitness goals.

This guide will assist you in making healthier choices when dining out. It is useful for those looking to lose weight, maintain weight, or simply eat healthier.

Let's get started!

What do 100 Calorie Portions Look Like?

Before diving into our tips, let's first understand what 100 calories look like. Portion control is essential for managing calorie intake. Generally speaking, 100 calories might look like:

  • A small apple (about 3.5 ounces)
  • A slice of whole-grain bread
  • Three cups of air-popped popcorn
  • A medium-sized banana
  • A tablespoon of peanut butter (though slightly over 100 calories, it's close)
  • 14 almonds
  • A hard-boiled egg

It is important to note that smaller portions do not always equal low calories. Here are some examples of how even small-looking items can be extremely high in calories:

  • A small handful of mixed nuts: While nuts are healthy, just a tiny handful can easily exceed 200 calories.
  • A single slice of cheese: Depending on the type, a slice of cheese can range from 70 to over 100 calories.
  • Half an avocado: Avocados are nutrient-dense, but half of one contains about 120-150 calories.
  • A single granola bar: Despite their small size, many granola bars can contain between 150 to 200 calories.

These examples illustrate how even small portions can be deceptively high in calories. Knowing these hidden calorie traps can help you make smarter, low-calorie choices when dining out.

Tips for Sticking to 100-Calorie Options When Eating Out

1. Plan Ahead

Planning is crucial for success. Before heading out, take some time to research restaurant menus online. Many establishments provide nutritional information on their websites or through mobile apps. Look for restaurants that offer healthy, low-calorie options, and have a plan in mind before you arrive. 

Chipotle's website lets you select your meal and view its nutritional information. This helps you make a healthier choice before visiting the restaurant.

2. Start with a Light Appetizer

Begin your meal with a light appetizer to curb your hunger and prevent overeating. Opt for vegetable-based options such as a small salad with a light vinaigrette dressing or a plate of steamed vegetables. 

A cup of broth-based soup can also be a great low-calorie starter. For instance, a cup of miso soup typically contains around 50 calories.

3. Opt for Lean Proteins

When selecting your main dish, choose lean proteins prepared healthily. Grilled, baked, or steamed options are your best bet. Look for dishes featuring chicken, fish, or tofu, and steer clear of anything fried, breaded, or heavily sauced.  

Grilled chicken breast is a good protein source with low calories. A 3-ounce serving has about 100 calories, 26 grams of protein, and no carbs.

4. Customize Your Order

Feel free to customize your order to fit your dietary needs. Request dressings and sauces on the side to control the amount you use. Ask for steamed or grilled vegetables instead of starchy sides like fries or mashed potatoes. 

You can also request smaller portion sizes. Many restaurants gladly accommodate such requests, especially if you explain your dietary requirements.

5. Be Smart About Beverages

Beverages can be a hidden source of calories. Stick to water, sparkling water, or unsweetened tea to keep your calorie intake in check. Avoid sugary drinks, alcohol, and smoothies that can quickly add calories without providing much nutritional value. 

For instance, a typical soda can contain 150-200 calories, while a glass of wine has about 125 calories.

6. Drink Water Before Your Meal

One effective strategy to help you stick to a low-calorie diet when eating out is drinking water before meals. Drinking water before meals can help you eat less.

This is because it makes you feel full. As a result, you are more likely to choose smaller, healthier portions. Studies have shown that this simple practice can significantly reduce calorie intake.

It is important to note that drinking water during your meal is less beneficial. Consuming water while eating can dilute digestive juices, potentially impairing digestion and nutrient absorption. Therefore, aim to drink a glass or two of water around 30 minutes before you plan to eat.

7. Chew Your Food Properly

Taking the time to chew your food thoroughly can have several benefits that help you consume fewer calories.

Chewing your food slowly and thoroughly gives your brain enough time to receive fullness signals. This can help prevent overeating by increasing the satisfaction you get from your meal.

Aim to chew each bite around 20-30 times. Chewing your food well helps digestion and makes you enjoy your meal more. This can help you feel satisfied with smaller portions. 

Chewing your food properly can help you enjoy the flavors and textures more, making your cheat meal even more satisfying.

8. Mind the Extras

Pay attention to the extras that come with your meal. Skip high-calorie add-ons like cheese, bacon, and croutons. Ask for dishes without added butter or oil to keep the calorie count low. 

For example, a tablespoon of butter adds approximately 100 calories to your dish.

9. Eat a Healthy Snack Before Leaving

Eating a healthy snack before eating can help you stick to your low-calorie diet and avoid overeating. This can be especially helpful if you tend to indulge when dining out.

Having a nutritious snack beforehand can curb your hunger and help you make better choices when ordering your meal. This strategy can also help you avoid consuming excess calories and stay on track with your weight loss goals.

Opt for snacks high in protein and fiber, as these nutrients are particularly effective at promoting satiety. Some great 100-calorie snack options include: 

  • A small apple with a teaspoon of almond butter or peanut butter
  • A handful of baby carrots with hummus
  • A low-calorie protein bar
  • A small Greek yogurt
  • A hard-boiled egg
  • A small portion of mixed nuts (about 14 almonds)

Eating low-calorie snacks can help stabilize your blood sugar levels and prevent excessive hunger. This can make it easier for you to choose healthier options when dining out. If you feel full when you arrive at the restaurant, you are more likely to choose healthier and lighter meals. This will help you stick to your goal of 100 calories per serving.

10. Practice Mindful Eating

Eating out often involves larger portions than you might typically have at home. Practice mindful eating by paying attention to your hunger and fullness cues. Eat slowly, savor each bite, and stop when you feel satisfied rather than stuffed. 

Ask for a to-go box at the start of your meal and save half of your food for later. This helps with calorie control and provides you with a second meal.

Examples of 100 Calorie Options at Popular Restaurants

Choosing low-calorie restaurant options can be easier when you know what to look for. Here are specific examples of 100-calorie options at different types of restaurants:

Fast Food Chains:

  • McDonald's: Opt for the side salad without dressing (15 calories) and apple slices (15 calories). Together, these make a light, nutritious snack under 100 calories.
  • Subway: Choose a mini 3-inch turkey sub without cheese or condiments (90 calories).
  • Chick-fil-A: Grilled chicken nuggets (80 calories for a 4-count) and a side of fruit (50 calories for a small serving).

Casual Dining Restaurants:

  • Applebee's: A cup of chicken tortilla soup (100 calories) or a house salad without dressing (70 calories).
  • Olive Garden: Minestrone soup (100 calories per serving) or steamed broccoli (40 calories).
  • Panera Bread: A cup of low-fat garden vegetable soup with pesto (80 calories).

Ethnic Cuisine:

  • Japanese: Two pieces of tuna sashimi (about 60 calories) and a side of seaweed salad (35 calories).
  • Mexican: A small serving of ceviche (80 calories) or a corn tortilla with a tablespoon of guacamole (100 calories).
  • Indian: A serving of tandoori chicken (100 calories for 2 ounces) without additional sauces.
  • Thai: Fresh spring rolls with shrimp and vegetables (around 70 calories each).
  • Greek: Small Greek salad without dressing (85 calories) or Tzatziki with cucumber slices (100 calories).
  • Middle Eastern food options: Tabbouleh has 70 calories, while two small falafel balls have 100 calories.
  • Chinese: Steamed dumplings (around 40 calories each) or a small serving of hot and sour soup (90 calories).

Coffee Shops and Bakeries:

  • Starbucks: You can order a small black coffee with almond milk and a plain hearty blueberry oatmeal. The black coffee has 5 calories, the almond milk has 15 calories, and the oatmeal has 80 calories.
  • Dunkin': A small iced coffee with skim milk (30 calories) and a plain munchkin donut hole (60 calories).

Dealing with Social Situations

Eating out with friends or going to parties can be challenging when you're trying to eat fewer calories. 

Communication is key: inform your dining companions about your dietary preferences and goals. This can help remove any potential pressure to indulge. 

Lead by example by making healthy choices that may inspire your companions to follow suit. At the bare minimum, they'll understand and respect your choices. Suggest dining at places you know offer healthy options, allowing you to make informed decisions without feeling deprived. 

Remember to watch your portion sizes and hidden calories when you're out with friends. Try having a small, healthy snack before you go to help control your hunger and prevent overeating.


Eating out while sticking to 100-calorie options requires planning, awareness, and mindful choices. Follow the tips in this article to make wise choices when eating out. This will help you enjoy tasty meals without compromising your health goals. 

Remember, it's not about perfection but about progressing towards a healthier lifestyle one meal at a time. 

Happy Eating!

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