Healthy Eating at Restaurants Has a Whole New Look

January 18, 2018
By Anita Jones-Mueller, MPH, and Sara Lucero

There’s a new trend in healthy eating and restaurant dining, and it is leaving behind restriction and deprivation in favor of savoring great meals at restaurants that support a healthy lifestyle.

Once upon a time, Americans ate at restaurants without considering nutrition or health, but now these factors are top priority for growing numbers of guests. Restaurant lovers are demanding more, and restaurants are delivering with dishes that seamlessly marry flavor with nutrition.This new trend in restaurant dining is at the forefront in recent articles, such as The Healthiest Meals to Order at Fast Food and Chain Restaurants from Today and a similar article on But are the qualifications for making this list of “healthy choices?”

There are many definitions of “healthy” out there, but nutrition experts, including dietitians, have a pretty consistent framework for what makes a diet healthy. It’s this framework that restaurants are increasingly using to guide their menu development decisions:

  • Fruits and vegetables: The more variety in color of these nutritional and delicious powerhouses, the better.
  • Lean protein: Seafood, poultry, lean cuts of beef, tofu and similar choices add essential protein with less saturated fat.
  • Whole grains: Whole grains and whole grain products are becoming more and more popular with consumers for the fiber and nutrients they contain along with their nutty, satisfying taste and richer texture.
  • Nuts and seeds: The wide array of nuts and seeds available today not only adds taste and interest but healthy fats, too.
  • Beans and legumes: Research continues to show the benefits of adding more plants, including fiber-rich, plant-based proteins like these, to the diet.

In 2015, to bring home the importance of consistent nutrition recommendations, a group of leading nutrition and food system experts came together and outlined healthy eating guidelines like these and more.

The most exciting part is seeing how these recommendations are now being translated into tempting menu choices like those featured in the recent People Magazine and Food Network articles. We asked Healthy Dining’s dietitians to weigh in on exactly what makes these menu items healthy and delicious and we’re highlighting one tantalizing menu iteam each week: 

Banh Mi Power Bowl at California Pizza Kitchen

(540 Calories, 33 Grams Fat, 4.5 Grams Saturated Fat, 40 Grams Carbohydrate, 28 Grams Protein)

“This menu choice checks so many boxes when it comes to healthful ingredients! Lean grilled chicken and an eye-catching variety of vegetables are paired with whole grain quinoa and a sprinkle of crunchy sesame seeds and creamy avocado for a dream bowl. True to trend, this bowl definitely doesn’t sacrifice on flavor either.” – Mary (Parsons) Fraker, MS, RD