Dining Out Made Heart Smart

A hospitality Professional’s guide to heart-healthy dine-in and takeout choices.

Adjusting to a heart healthy way of eating can be tricky as we learn the ropes. Trickier still; how do we adjust our eating habits while enjoying a meal in a restaurant or while ordering takeout?
As a former hospitality professional, I have compiled some tips to make dining out after a cardiac event as stress free as possible, while working toward your goals.


Remember the new Canada Food Guide? Use the My Plate guide to lead you in what you order, and how much of each element of your dish you enjoy! Half your bites should be fruits and vegetables, and one quarter each should be either a protein food or a whole grain food. Start with a salad with an oil based vinaigrette to get your micronutrient-rich veggie portion in first! Protein portions should be about the size of a deck of cards, and about ½ cup of cooked whole grains counts as a “serving”.


Look for colour on the menu, the bright colours of seasonal vegetables trumps the beige of less nutritious creamy sauces, aiolis, fried items and dipping sauces. The bright colours in fruit and veg are the product of vitamins, minerals and naturally occurring phytochemicals, almost like a visual signal they are nutritional powerhouses.


Certain words can be clues to how an item is prepared, or to ingredients that may not pair well with your heart journey.

Words to watch out for:

  • Fried
  • Crispy
  • Crunchy
  • Battered
  • Creamy
  • Cheesy
  • Stuffed
  • Pickled

Words to look for:

  • Steamed
  • Poached
  • Roasted
  • Broiled
  • Baked
  • Grilled
  • Fresh
  • Bright


Don’t be shy!  Touch base with your server on your nutritional goals and ask where modifications are possible, servers love to “hack” the menu and can share their wisdom! Some items are outsourced, or made early in the morning by prep cooks, but where possible, accommodations can be made, including:

  • Swapping out creamy salad dressings for oil-based ones- or even asking for dressings on the side to control how much you’d like
  • Request that your meal be prepared with as little oil as possible- some may be needed for non-stick purposes, but a swap from butter to a small amount of olive oil will cut the saturated fat and keep the flavour
  • Limit Salt- While unavoidable in pre-made sauces, ask that no additional salt be added to your meal and omit pickled or brined items
  • Ask for a box to take the rest home, to limit food waste and keep portions in check. If you’re too tempted, ask that they pre-box half before they bring it out
  • Ask what sides can be substituted for fried, crispy, or creamy items: there may be an extra charge, but your heart is at stake!
  • Go bun-less! Lettuce wrapped burgers, tacos and wraps are a common request, or see if whole grain options are available for breads and buns
  • Two plate it! Restaurant portions are known to be overly generous, so divide and conquer with your dinner mates and save calories and money
  • Sauce on the side! Sauces are a sneaky culprit for loads of fats, sodium and even sugar- no matter the cuisine, opt for sauce on the side and add it sparingly


For beverages, try and stick to non-alcoholic options where possible, such as soda water, a cranberry soda, or even a virgin mojito (have them skip the simple syrup and it’s even more refreshing!).

Wanting to cap off your meal? Treat yourself to an espresso, americano, decaf coffee or tea as a relaxing way to unwind and warm up before ending your evening. Instead of traditional desserts, find a fruit sorbet as a lighter option than traditional ice cream that still feels indulgent.


Check out the menu in advance, using these tips to strategize the best option for you, so that you don’t need to stress! Eating at a chain? Look up the menu items on MyFitnessPal or your favourite nutrition website to see where it lies on the nutrition spectrum.

Questions? Looking to head out (or in) for a meal? Don’t be afraid to ask for more strategies and guidance on making your choices fit a heart healthy lifestyle.