Finding More Fiber-Rich Foods When Eating Out

June 17, 2020

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN

Research on the eating habits of Americans shows that our consumption of “foods away from home”* has been steadily rising since 1987. The amount of household food budgets spent on foods away from home surpassed the amount spent for “food at home” in 2010 when it reached 50.2 percent. (1) It has held that lead ever since.

Sources for the meals, snacks and beverages Americans eat away from home include quick-service, fast-casual and full-service restaurants; cafeterias, canteens and concessions; convenience stores, mobile food vendors and vending machines; and delis, bakeries, and drinking places. While a wide range of menu options are available in these outlets, the nutrient quality of the foods selected when eating in them traditionally has been higher in calories, fat, sodium and sugar than food from home. (1)

More recently, the quality of foods eaten away from home has become more similar to that of foods eaten at home due, in part, to the greater availability of healthy options on menus and the declining quality of the choices being served at home. (1)  Unfortunately, our intake of dietary fiber, an “underconsumed” nutrient according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, is still not at recommended levels in either setting. (2)

Wellness professionals can help their clients close this gap by guiding them to fiber rich options when eating away from home in addition to those they can readily find in the grocery store for meals prepared at home.

One way to add more fiber-rich foods away from home is by making Smart Swaps and Substitutions. For example, rather than ordering the most popular “combos” on the menu, consumers can swap out something in those combos for one more serving of  fruit, vegetable, whole grains, beans, nuts or seeds as illustrated in the chart. If they don’t see the swap they want on the menu, they should be encouraged to ask for it since the more requests a restaurant receives for an item the more likely it will be to provide it in the future. The establishment may also suggest an alternative. Additionally, consumers may find higher fiber options by looking for the “healthier choice” icon featured on many menus today.



Fruit cup or sliced tomatoHome fried potatoes or hash browns
Half grapefruit or citrus sectionsOrange juice or grapefruit juice
Whole wheat toast or seeded rye toastWhite bread toast, English muffin or biscuit
Oatmeal with fruit or quinoa porridgeCream of wheat or grits
Pancakes or waffles with berries or bananasPancakes or waffles with syrup or whipped cream
Bran muffin or corn muffinDonut or pastry
Vegetable omelet or burritoHam or sausage omelet or burrito
Fruit and yogurt parfait with granolaFruit smoothie
Avocado on toast or bagelCream cheese on toast or bagel
Huevos Rancheros (eggs, beans, salsa, tortilla)Eggs Benedict


Cole slaw or apple slicesFrench fries or potato chips
Whole wheat bread, roll or wrapWhite bread, roll or wrap
Black bean, lentil, or split pea soupChicken noodle, chicken rice or matzo ball soup
Minestrone or mushroom barley soupCream of potato, broccoli or mushroom soup
Salad topped with nuts, beans or seedsSalad topped with croutons, bacon bits or cheese
Extra lettuce, tomato, onions or peppers on a burger or sandwichExtra cheese or meat on a burger or sandwich
Brown rice with Chinese food or in sushiWhite rice with Chinese food or in sushi
Salsa or guacamole with corn chipsQueso dip or nacho cheese with corn chips
Double vegetables with entreeWhite rice or mashed potato with entree
Baked potato topped with salsa or chiliMashed potatoes with gravy
Peppers, onions or broccoli on pizzaSausage, pepperoni or meatballs on pizza
Roasted asparagus or Brussel sprouts appetizerFried zucchini or onion blossom appetizer
Corn on the cob or baked beans side orderFried onion rings or macaroni and cheese
Meatless bean or veggie burgerBeef or turkey burger
Beans and rice side dishBiscuits and gravy side dish


Popcorn, trail mix, or nut and seed packsPotato chips, cheese crackers, or pretzels
Granola bar or fig-filled cookiesCandy bar or sandwich cookies
Freeze-dried fruits or dried fruitFruit roll-up or gummy fruit
Hummus or guacamole with vegetablesCheese dip or spread with crackers
Fiber One® bars, brownies, or snack cakesRegular cookies, brownies, or snack cakes
Whole fruit  or non-browning apple slicesFruit cups or applesauce

Another way people can find more fiber when eating away from home is by patronizing ethnic restaurants featuring more plant-based cuisines.  This is also a good way to sample different fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, grains, nuts and seeds when they are properly prepared and seasoned. Once tried away from home, that may increase the likelihood of their being purchased for home consumption when seen in the grocery store.

While everything on the menus in these restaurants is not high in fiber, there are many more plant-based choices than found on standard American menus and the chefs are often more willing to accommodate special requests. The key is to ask!


  • Chinese
  • Ethiopian
  • Indian
  • Indonesian
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Middle Eastern (Lebanese, Israeli Syrian)
  • Thai
  • Vegetarian or Vegan
  • Vietnamese

*“Foods away from home” can include foods prepared and purchased away from home but eaten at home and “foods at home” can include foods prepared at home but eaten elsewhere.


Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN is a registered dietitian, cultural anthropologist and scientific advisor to the Calorie Control Council, whose 30+ year career includes maintaining a busy nutrition counseling practice, teaching food and nutrition courses at the university level, and authoring 2 popular diet books and numerous articles and blogs on health and fitness. Her ability to make sense out of confusing and sometimes controversial nutrition news has made her a frequent guest on major media outlets, including CNBC, FOX News and USA Today. Her passion is communicating practical nutrition information that empowers people to make the best food decisions they can in their everyday diets. Reach her on Twitter @EverydayRD and check out her blog The Everyday RD.

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