Maintaining a Healthy Weight

6 Tips for Dining Out Healthfully

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Whether you’re enjoying a business lunch, eating dinner with a special someone or zipping through the fast food line to ensure the kids get fed before bed, dining out is as American as apple pie. Unfortunately, most restaurant dining presents a major challenge for anyone who is trying to slim down or follow a healthy lifestyle.

“Oversized portions, calorie-laden extras and a heavy hand with salt all combine to make restaurant dining a dietary minefield,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Antigone Senn.

The good news: Eating out doesn’t have to be a dietary disaster. Whether you dine in a restaurant or order take out, Senn offers these six suggestions for eating healthier away from home:

  1. Plan ahead. If you know you’ll be eating dinner out, cut back on the calories you consume at other times of the day. Don’t order whipped cream on your morning coffee drink, opt for a half-sandwich instead of whole at lunch, and have veggies instead of chips if you get afternoon munchies. But don’t arrive at a restaurant starving. Eating a fiber-rich snack two to three hours before dining out will keep you from diving headfirst into the bread basket. Another smart tip: check the restaurant’s menu online for nutrition information ahead of time so you can plan your order in advance.
  1. Pay attention to menu clues. When scanning a new menu, steer clear of items with calorie-laden words like “fried,” “breaded” and “creamy” and seek out dishes that are baked, broiled, grilled or steamed instead.
  1. Don’t be afraid to customize your order. Ask for sauces and dressings on the side, order pizza and pastas with light cheese and substitute fresh veggies for French fries. Then double up on fiber-rich powerhouses like broccoli, spinach and salad greens or order a healthy side item.
  1. Strive for balance. If you’re dining out for a special occasion, you don’t have to bypass a dish you really love. Instead, balance your meal: Fill up on a nutrient-rich side salad to start (with the dressing on the side), order a side of steamed veggies or choose fruit in lieu of fries. Then eat less of your beloved entrée. Share it with your dining companion or pack up half for tomorrow’s lunch.
  1. Watch portion sizes. Most restaurants go overboard on portions, with some dishes boasting enough calories for two or even three diners. In addition to choosing lighter dishes, set aside an appropriate portion and vow not to let your fork venture over to the other side of the plate. Better yet, ask for a to-go container in advance. Then, as soon as your meal arrives, pack half away to take home with you.
  1. Slow down. One reason Americans overeat is because time is at a premium. We try to shovel in as much as possible in the limited time we’ve set aside to nourish our bodies. Trouble is, it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to receive the message that the stomach is full. If you learn to eat slowly, chances are good you’ll fill up on less food.

To find a registered dietitian at Henry Ford, visit or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

You can read more nutrition and fitness advice in our EatWell and MoveWell sections, so subscribe to get all the latest tips.