Let’s be honest; we all enjoy (and even need– hey, nourish the soul as well as the body guys!) the occasional meal out, indulging in some seriously delicious food and having an array beautiful dishes appear one after another- as if by magic. Food magic. But! and this is the big but, with our 24/7 lifestyles meals out are becoming less of an extravagant treat, and more of a day to day occurrence- not so good for our health (or your food loving soul). Sometimes you may feel like making the “right”, or at least a better, choice which still feels as though some culinary god is shining down on your tastebuds. Maybe you’re a busy socialite, have multiple business dinners, or perhaps are just looking to reach/remain at the peak of physical fitness? Whatever your reason I hope this post helps you the next time you require some guilt free dining out. I’ll also be mentioning some of my personal choices when I go out for a slap up meal…
- Look at the cooking method. Avoid anything listed as “deep fried”. Instead of greasy chips opt for tender new potatoes or crushed potatoes. If you really need something resembling chips go for wedges- especially if they’re baked. The larger surface area: volume ratio of the wedges means that less oil will be absorbed in cooking. You could also enquire as to how the wedges (or chips) are cooked; some establishments oven bake or use a gadget known as an “actifry”, which uses a lot less oil than traditional cooking methods. So, if for example you find yourself at Nando’s opt for the regular potato mash, spicy rice, or the sweet potato mash (sweet potato is even richer in beta carotene and fibre than normal potatoes and so an excellent choice), over the chips or garlic bread. The latter two of these will use a lot of oil/butter. If you’re at a buffet bypass the spring rolls, prawn toast etc. and seek out stir fry dishes. Key words to look out for in healthier options include: grilled, baked, stir fry, seared, poached. At a Turkish restaurant I chose, for example, grilled Turkish chicken skewers, rice and a large salad with feta cheese- simply delicious!
- Think about the balance within your meal. When able to select the components of your meal yourself balance may be the last thing on your mind, but just take a few minutes to puzzle it out. Clearly a buffet plate consisting of spring roll, chips, mashed potato, rice, hoisin duck wraps, and a lettuce leaf is not going to do you any favours. Does it really taste so good once that greasy texture overwhelms your taste buds? For balance begin by filling most of your plate with vegetables, then protein (chicken, fish, turkey, tofu, lentils- opt for lean protein where possible), then one type of carb. If you’re at a Chinese buffet go for a couple of vegetarian dishes, a meat dish, and then a scoop of boiled rice/a couple of duck pancakes/a spring roll- the latter are listed in order of preference! In pubs don’t order lasagne and chips, but lasagne and salad. At a carvery don’t have Yorkshire pudding and new potatoes and roasted potatoes- load up your plate with those vibrant vegetables!
- Watch those side dishes. I’m not saying don’t order them, just choose wisely. Opt for extra vegetables, seasonal or Mediterranean, salad- dishes that add colour, fibre, and vitamins to your meal. On a recent trip to “ZiZi’s” (an Italian restaurant) I ordered the seafood risotto, and then a side dish of long stem broccoli, not garlic bread. Imagine the picture to the right with bread; it loses so much of its freshness and appeal. This brings me to my next point…
- Look out for healthier options listed on the menu. Most places now list healthier options, the seafood risotto on the right is one of them. However, don’t opt for a meal purely because it’s “low calorie”- pick something you know you will enjoy. If one salad is made up of lettuce, grilled chicken, light mayo and croutons and is 500kcal, but another contains spinach, salmon, salsa, grilled vegetables, avocado and is 600kcal (just as an example), don’t pick the less exciting but lower calorie one over the higher calorie and more nutritionally dense one. Think nutrition not calories. This will always help when no calorific information is given.
- Ask for sauces on the side, or not at all. I always ask for creamy sauces to be put on the side or left out of my meal completely. Then again, I also ask for restaurants to leave the mayo out of my burgers- I’m just not a fan of creamy foods. Most places will offer you an alternative sauce, if this is the case opt for a tomato based one such as salsa or tomato and herb.
- Avoid snacking on the bread basket, or any other freebees- Italian and Indian restaurants, I’m looking at you! Often a big basket of ciabatta or popadoms can be one temptation too many for some of us. Position yourself away from the basket, move the basket away, or just exercise some willpower- I’m sure you can wait for you meal to arrive.
- Don’t fall into the “banquet trap”. Especially if you’re eating out a lot. If you want to be super good just opt for the main course. If you’re feeling a little bit of a treat choose a starter or a dessert; if there’s the option of frozen yoghurt or a colourful fruit salad that’s great. If there’s a savoury salad, non creamy soup, or grilled meat with some salad then there are a few excellent options for a starter. My favourite Indian restaurant makes a brilliant chickpea dish called “chana chaat”; a brilliant protein and fibre rich starter. Remember, this isn’t your special occasion dining; I would never suggest that on your birthday, Christmas etc, you don’t treat yourself to that three course feast!
- Go teetotal. Do you need alcohol with every meal out? Alcohol is empty calories that could be contributing to that lethargic feeling, weight gain, and fuzzy willpower later on in the meal. Go for water with some lime and ice, or a lime/blackcurrant and soda if you really detest water.
- Get as many colours on your plate as possible. Eat the rainbow! The more colours on your plate, the more vitamins and minerals you’re pumping into your body. Varying shades of golden brown do not count.
- Watch your portion size. If you’re eating out at lunch, but know you have a family dinner at tea time, then opt for a salad, soup, or jacket potato with a topping. You really don’t need two huge meals; most restaurants and fast food places serve up to double the amount we actually need to eat. I find that for lovely portion sizes the chain “Vintage Inns” comes up tops, with their seared salmon, Mediterranean vegetables and crushed new potatoes- creamy sauce can be removed on request. If you feel like more vegetables or salad with that, then these are side dishes you can order easily.
- Don’t be pressured by friends, family, or flirty waiters. It is your choice what you eat when you’re out. Good friends will understand this, and won’t make you feel awkward or left out- even following these tips you shouldn’t feel left out, because your meal will still be delicious, just healthier hopefully. And remember: the waiter is flirting with your wallet, not you.
Some of my top choices for eating out healthily in style:
- Nandos- 1/4 hot roasted chicken with: salad and spicy rice/ macho peas with mash or corn or salad/ ratatouille and halloumi cheese/ Salad with chicken breast, avocado and grilled pineapple
- Vintage Inns- Seared salmon with Mediterranean roasted vegetables, crushed potatoes, no cream sauce and perhaps a side of extra veg or salad
- Bagel Nash- Mexican chicken wholemeal bagel/ Greek special wholemeal bagel (the only ones I’ve tried so far!)
- Pret a Manger- Any of their amazing salads/ gazpacho, with a fruit salad or fruit brought from home
- ZiZi’s- Seafood risotto (always, as I am major fish fiend!)
- Indian Restaurants- Chana chaat for a starter, followed by a fish masarla grill with salad and rice, cup of tea or lime and soda after the meal, water with the meal.