One challenge that often crops up when trying to eat healthily is how to cope at a restaurant.
When you’re eating at home, you can check food labels and buy products that fit with your diet. You can cook without using oil or butter. You can pile your plate high with colorful vegetables.
When you’re at a restaurant, though, you might feel like you’re at the mercy of the menu – and the chef. Here are some tips on making sensible, healthy choices when you’re eating out:
Have a starter and entree, not an entree and dessert
If you’re having two courses, you’ll almost always find it’s healthier to have a starter and entree, rather than a starter and dessert. If portion sizes are large, why not just order two starters – or at least ask for a “doggy bag” to take part of your entree home in.
Good starters include salads (ask for dressings on the side), any fish options which aren’t fried or battered, and soups.
Order wine by the glass
Many of us will only have a glass of wine at home, but end up drinking half a bottle in a restaurant. A 175ml glass of wine is typically two units – and the government recommended maximum for women is two – three units per day. (It’s three – four units for men.) Unless you’re sharing a bottle around several people at a table, order by the glass: you’ll save on money, too.
Look for healthier menu options
Foods that are grilled, steamed or baked are usually best. Fried (sometimes called “sauteed”) is a no-no. Don’t be afraid to ask your waiter how something is cooked, if you’re unsure.
Don’t assume that a salad is automatically a healthy option: if it’s packed with fried, fatty bacon bits and croutons, and smothered with a creamy mayonnaise dressing, you’d be better off ordering a grilled steak with fries.
Ask for simple omissions or swaps to be made, where appropriate: a baked potato instead of chips, for instance, or just half the usual amount of cheese on your pizza. A few minor tweaks to your meal can make it a lot healthier.
If you must have dessert…
Sometimes, you find that you really want something sweet after your meal, and everyone else is ordering dessert. Should you just give in and have a giant slice of the chocolate fudge cake?
Well, you could, but you’ll probably regret it afterwards. How about choosing a fruit dessert instead – not one with pastry, like apple pie, but something which involves fruit in a light sauce?
Sorbets are low-calorie, though high in sugar. Ice cream, whilst certainly not the healthiest option around, is a much lighter choice than cheesecake.
A coffee or cappuccino makes a good alternative to a dessert (and will save you a few dollars too).
Healthier choices from different cuisines
Here are some quick tips on finding the healthy options amongst a few different cuisines:
Italian: Go for pasta, not pizza, with a tomato-based sauce. The more veggies, the better! Fish is often a good option, especially shrimp, for a low-fat but high-taste dish. Most Italian desserts are packed with fat and sugar; sorbet may be your best bet.
Indian: Avoid creamy curries (like “korma”) and pick tangy tomato ones (“jalfrezi”, “tikka” or “balti” are good). Go for chicken rather than lamb – and plenty of vegetables. Ask for poppadums instead of naan bread: they’re much lower in fat and calories.
Chinese: Have vegetable dishes, plain boiled rice (not egg fried!) and fish or chicken. Avoid pork balls and sweet and sour sauce. Although seaweed is good for you, Chinese restaurants usually serve it deep-fried – making it high in fat and calories.
Mexican: Avoid nachos – if you really crave them, have plain tortilla chips with salsa instead. Steer clear of the sour cream, and have a little guacamole (avocados are good for you, but high-calorie). Chilli (with its beans and tomatoes) is a good option, and chicken or prawn fajitas make a good entree if you split them with a friend. Don’t have burritos or anything else deep-fried.
What are your tips on eating out (and enjoying yourself!) while eating healthily? Share them with us in the comments…