How to Eat Smart and be in Control whilst Eating Out
Making healthy choices when eating out often poses a challenge. It all seems to boil down to one dilemma: how can you ensure complete control over your diet when you are not in control of your eating environment?
You can be up against many villains when you are trying to upkeep healthy eating habits in a restaurant – big portions, too much salt, fat or sugar, tempting starters, side dishes and desserts just to name a few.
Sometimes you may have to deal with the added pressure of friends and family who may push you towards certain food choices, by encouraging you to live in the movement. In such instances, it is best to be prepared for this scenario and practice being strong by simply saying no, politely but firmly.
Is it possible to eat well when dining out? As with all challenges, it is best to be well prepared and informed. Eating at a restaurant does not necessarily have to sabotage a healthy eating regime. Implement smart-food strategies: plan ahead of time, consider the menu carefully and become menu savvy to ensure you select meals that will not lead you astray. Below you will find some tips to help you to feel in control of your eating out experience, and to help guide you in selecting healthier eating options.
Managing your portions
Keep it small: portion sizes at fast food joints or restaurants are usually much larger than what you would normally eat at home. Ask for half portions, share a large meal with a friend, and do not feel obliged to finish what is on your plate; ask for a doggy bag and take home the remainders of your meal.
Sharing is caring: share a starter if it strikes your fancy. If you are still feeling hungry after your meal, conclude with a fruit dessert or sip on a plain cappuccino. If you love rich desserts, order one and ask for additional spoons to split with your friends!
Appetisers: say no to bread or other nibbles before your meal arrives, as these are likely to increase your overall calorie intake.
Avoid super-sizing: choose standard or smaller portion sizes, and avoid "large" or "super-size" versions as they contain a high amount of fat and calories.
Making healthier choices
Be menu savvy when ordering: balance your meal by including healthier selections from all the different food groups such as lean meats, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. As a rule of thumb, half of your plate should be composed of vegetables, ¼ protein and ¼ (whole) grains.
Ask for more vegetables: if your meal does not come with vegetables, order sides of leafy green salad or steamed vegetables. This can replace a starter.
Opt for whole grains: look for dishes made with whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, barley, bulgur or oats. Fibre keeps you fuller for longer and helps to maintain a healthy digestive system.
Tomato and vegetable-based sauces: if you need to pay attention to your weight, opt for tomato or vegetable-based sauces and soups rather than cream, coconut or cheese-based ones.
Keep salt in check: choose fewer foods that have been smoked or made with soy sauce or teriyaki sauce. Look for "light" versions of these sauces and ask for them to be served on the side. Do not add additional salt to your dish; exchange salt for peppers, other spices, herbs and lemon.
Ask for sauces on the side: sauces, condiments, dressings and spreads can supply excessive amounts of fat and salt to your meal. Ask for these on the side and so you can control how much you consume. Keep sauces to a minimum, and use just enough to deliver some flavour.
Skip sweet drinks: drink water in place of sweetened drinks such as soft drinks, ice tea or lemonade. Try sparkling water with lemon or lime slices. If you drink alcohol, limit it to one or two drinks for the day.
Learning the lingo: knowing menu terms and cooking basics makes ordering easier. Ask the food was prepared. Order foods that have been steamed, baked, grilled, or roasted. Fat and calories add up quickly when food is fried, deep-fried or breaded. Also watch out for sautéed items or foods described as "crispy," "rich" or "au gratin." Choose plain boiled rice instead of fried and go for boiled or jacket potatoes rather than chips or wedges.
Prepare in advance: examine the restaurant's website ahead of time. Look for healthier options that are higher in protein, fibre and vitamins and lower in calories, fat, sugar and salt. Ensure you eat a light dinner if you consumed a heavy lunch that day. Or, if you know ahead of time that you are going to a restaurant, cut back on calories during other meals during the day.
Eat slowly: it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the message from your stomach that you are no longer hungry. Fast eaters often are overeaters, while slow eaters tend to eat less, while still being satisfied. Wait until you have eaten your main course before you order a pudding. When you have finished the main course, you may discover that you are satisfied.
Pause during meals and put your knife and fork down between each mouthful. Taste and savour each mouthful of your meal – enjoy the experience.
Practice refusing offers to overeat: learn to say ‘no thank you’ politely but firmly
Restaurants may be intimidating to people trying to stick to a healthy diet, but with a little preparation and confidence, you can enjoy your restaurant meal without abandoning healthy eating by implementing some smart eating strategies.
Sophie Bruno is a Registered Dietitian living and working in Brussels (Belgium). Read Sophie's foodie blog which will enable you to learn, increase your knowledge & cultivate yourself in the field of nutrition & health directly from Brussels