20 Aug How To Count Calories When Eating Out
You can count calories when eating out without any hassle.
And no, you don’t have to take digital scales with you.
This article is going to show you how to easily count calories when eating out. I’ll start with some general tips, and then show you exactly how I’d track 14 common meals you’d find at a restaurant or cafe.
Ps. If you’re wondering what macros are, or how many calories you need to eat a day, read this.
HOW TO COUNT CALORIES WHEN EATING OUT – GENERAL TIPS
Look Up Menus Online
Most fast food places have online menus with nutrition information available.
You can google it to check. If the nutrition information is available you can input that into your food diary as a custom food. In some cases, you might be able to find that fast food brand in the app and log it directly.
Break It Down & Over Estimate
If there’s no nutrition information online you can still easily count calories when eating out.
The best way to do this is to break the meal down into individual parts. Then estimate the portion sizes of each part.
As you gain experience weighing out portions of food at home, you’ll get better at being able to guess the portion size more accurately when you’re out.
If you’re unsure, it’s always best to overestimate. Often things are heavier than they look.
If you think about eating a salad with a heap of almonds, chicken and avocado, it’s going to fill you up a lot more than a salad with lettuce, tomato and a bit of chicken.
Assessing how full you feel after you eat helps you to get a better idea of whether you estimated your portion sizes well. If your meal comes to only 200 calories and you feel super full afterwards, it’s likely that you didn’t log something or, you didn’t log big enough portion sizes.
For most restaurant meals, I’d add a teaspoon of oil in addition to the individual food items on your plate. Restaurants usually cook with more oil that what you’d use at home.
The exception to this is if you order anything that’s raw like a salad with no oil or dressing on it, or a sandwich filled with only fresh/raw ingredients.
You don’t have to do this but I like to especially for pasta, stews or curries where fats can be easily hidden.
Look Up Ingredients
If you’re eating something weird, like at a fine dining restaurant, and you don’t know for sure what’s in it, google it. Then add those ingredients based on how much of each is in your meal.
There are times when it’s ok to NOT track your meal when eating out.
For example, if you have a cheese and wine night with your friends, tracking every bite is going to be a nightmare. It will probably ruin the experience so I wouldn’t bother tracking this.
Enjoy the moment and get back on track the next day. If you have a fat loss goal, be mindful of how full you’re feeling and don’t go overboard just because food is in front of you.
If you go on vacation you may want to take a full break. That’s ok too and can be a great time to start practising a more intuitive style of eating. For more tips for staying on track on vacation you can read this.
Remember The Extras
Condiments, sauces, dressings, bites of other people’s food, and drinks all have calories too. Don’t forget to log these if you have them.
Whether you count calories when eating out, or at home, it’s all an estimation.
You’ll know if you’re counting calories when eating out properly by the progress you’re making. If progress is stalling, then it could be that you need to track your food more accurately when eating out, especially if you eat out a lot.
HOW TO COUNT CALORIES WHEN EATING OUT – EXAMPLES
These examples are a guide only. Obviously I’m making up portion sizes and it would depend on the actual meal.
I’m using Easy Diet Diary as my food diary app. You can use whatever app you prefer and find the closest entries in there.
Meal = Cheesecake
Cake is harder to track than you’d think. For a cheesecake, because it’s so dense, I’d definitely make sure you overestimate the portion size. I’ve brought slices of cake home and found it weighs almost double what I expected.
For a sponge cake, it might weigh less than you think but the icing or cream on it will add weight and calories.
Point being, you should always overestimate when tracking cakes and sweets! Rather than choosing the grams that the app gives you for one slice, I’d choose to enter your own weight and add extra.
Say you order a large slice of baked blueberry cheesecake from a cafe… this is how I’d track it:
There was the option to add 1 slice in there for 175g, but I chose to add 200g worth in order to overestimate it.
Meal = Pho (Vietnamese)
This is an example where I wouldn’t know all the ingredients. I know its a noodle soup but that’s all.
To track this, I’d google “Pho recipe” and assess the ingredients.
From tracking at home I have a good understanding of what ingredients I need to track and which ones I don’t (because they have negligible calories). If you’re unsure, track everything and then you’ll quickly learn which ones you can ignore.
In the case of Pho, there are lots of herbs I wouldn’t bother tracking. When it comes to the soup, I’d make sure to track some kind of bone broth or stock with some fat and protein in it.
What you don’t want to do is log “Pho noodle soup” straight from the app. It’s very likely you’ll underestimate if you do it this way.
Let’s say it was a large bowl of beef noodle pho… I’d track it like this:
This is assuming that you drank most of the soup. You can add less cups of stock if you don’t drink it. Notice how I added sugar just incase they added some to the soup. I didn’t add oil in this case because I made sure I chose a non trimmed cut of meat which had fat in it. Since everything is cooked in the soup I didn’t think it was necessary.
Meal = Steak, Chips & Salad
This one is pretty straight forward. You can apply this to any “meat and sides” style meal (like salmon with veggies).
The great thing about ordering steak is that they have the weight of the steak on the menu.
All you really have to worry about estimating is the portion size of the chips. If the salad is simply lettuce and/or tomato I wouldn’t worry about tracking it (unless its a huge bowl and not a side).
This is how I’d track it:
Notice how I added oil in this case, as well as the sauce. For the chips there was an option to add them individually so I chose this because then I could roughly count how many were on my plate. I also added the steak raw because that’s the weight that would appear on the menu.
Meal = Pizza
I’d track pizza in two parts.
First I’d put the base in as a plain margarita pizza (cheese and tomato). Then I’d add whatever protein is on top separately.
You want to make sure you’re hitting your protein target. Say you order a seafood pizza. If it has hardly any seafood on it, then it’s probably not a good representation of the seafood pizza you’d find in a food diary app (probably higher in protein because it has more seafood on it).
You don’t have to be this particular but it’s not hard to log a cheese pizza and then some protein. I’d also add oil in this case.
Say the pizza was a large plate size pizza and you ate the whole thing. This is how I’d track it:
If you only ate half, I’d look at the total grams for the whole thing, then divide it by 2 and track that.
Meal = Burger + Fries
If you order this from McDonalds, you can use the nutrition information online.
If you order it from a restaurant, I’d track each of the individual components in the burger.
Usually you’ll be able to get a good idea of the exact items in the burger including the type of bun (brioche bread has more fat so make sure you put brioche bun if it is one) from the restaurant menu.
Make sure you add any condiments and sauces too.
Let’s say it was a beef burger on a brioche bun with cheese, lettuce, fried onion, mayo, plus a side of fries.
I’d track it like this:
Meal = Tacos
This one is pretty simple, all you need to do is track each item in the taco, including any sauces.
This is how I’d track 2 fish tacos on soft corn tortillas:
I wouldn’t add extra oil in this case because most of the items are fresh. I made sure I selected added fat for the grilled fish though.
Meal = A Friend’s Home Cooked Meal
This is one of those situations where I wouldn’t track. But if you wanted to, what I’d do is overestimate portion sizes and log the closest thing I could find.
Say your friend made lasagna with a side salad that had spinach and avocado in it plus added dressing.
This is how I’d track it:
In this case, it will be hardest to guess the weight of the lasagna slice. I overestimated and would assess fullness to help me get a better idea of how accurate this is. I didn’t bother tracking the spinach because it has negligible calories.
Meal = Steamed Dumplings
Let’s say you ate 6 pork filled dumplings. I’d break each one down into the individual components, guess the portion size and multiply it by 6.
Since they are steamed I wouldn’t add oil for the meal overall, but I know they usually have some kind of oil added inside the filling so I’d add this just incase. I guessed the portion size of mince used in each dumpling based on my experience tracking at home.
This is how I’d track them:
Meal = Stir Fry Noodles
When it comes to stir fry, you have to remember to add extra oil and usually some kind of sauce.
If you’re not sure what sauce was used, add any stir fry sauce that has a decent amount of calories and sugar.
Let’s say you ate a chicken stir fry with Hokkien noodles and teriyaki sauce.
This is how I’d track it:
I would guess the portion size of the chicken by either counting pieces or grouping the chicken into a section and then seeing (in my head) whether it could fit into a standard cup measurement. The only vegetables I would track are ones that have decent amount of calories like carrot and broccoli.
Meal = Souvlaki Wrap
This one is hard because you can’t see the filling to estimate portion sizes. Often you can watch them making the wrap and get a decent idea. Then, you need to assess your fullness and adjust.
If you’re really full after eating it, then you know it contained a lot of calories.
Don’t forget to track whatever sauces you decide to put in the wrap.
This is how I’d track a lamb souvlaki wrap:
Meal = Chicken Salad
When it comes to salads, I wouldn’t bother tracking lettuce or spinach because they have very few calories.
For other vegetables, it depends. Some do have a significant amount of calories. So I’d track them all until you get an idea of which ones you don’t need to worry about.
When the foods are spread out into a salad it can be hard to see how much of each are in it. To estimate portions, I push the same components into the same side of the bowl and then visualise the food in a ball. Then I match it with what I know a regular portion of the food looks like when I weigh it at home. Or you can imagine fitting it into a standard measuring cup and use that as a guide.
Another thing I like to do is order any dressing on the side. Then you can use a spoon to measure out the portion you’d log in your app.
Say you ordered a chicken salad with feta, avocado, almonds, pumpkin plus a balsamic dressing.
This is how I’d track it:
Meal = Eggs on Toast with a Side of Mushrooms
The hardest part will be estimating the weight of the bread.
Don’t forget to add butter if you add that to your toast as well as oil because the mushrooms will be cooked in it.
I’d track it like this:
Note that the portion size for a slice of bread in the app said 38g per slice but I made two slices as 100g because I know bread usually weighs more (especially the portion sizes you get in cafes).
Meal = Pancakes
You want to make sure you over estimate the weight of the pancakes, as well as whatever they come with. I’d also add oil to these.
This is how I’d track 3 pancakes with maple syrup and ice cream:
I would also ask for the maple syrup on the side so I could use a teaspoon to measure out how much I wanted and then track that.
Meal = Sushi Rolls
Sushi rolls are probably one of the hardest things to track.
I’d break down each roll into it’s components and log each separately. I’d guess each roll contains about 100g of cooked sushi rice but this will depend on the size of the roll and the contents.
Let’s say you order two salmon and avocado sushi rolls. This is how I’d track it:
If you order Nigiri sushi, I’d also track it as rice and fish separately. If you want to get super detailed, this is one of the most comprehensive sushi tracking articles I’ve ever seen 🙂
Remember, having a calorie target to aim for should be used as a guide. It’s not meant to stress you out.
Whether or not you count calories when eating out, is up to you. In most cases, it’s better to estimate portion sizes and track something than to not track, especially if you’re working towards a weight loss goal.
If you have any more questions about your diet and fitness goals, you can contact me here.