Updated: Oct 20
It was recently my birthday, which turned into a birth-weekend...with a holiday tagged on the end! This meant I was eating out a lot more than usual, and it got me thinking about tips for eating healthy when you're eating out. So here are my top 7 tips for healthy restaurant eating.
1. Check your potion size. When I eat out I do
one of two things - order an entree sized meal as a main OR order a regular main and portion half of it off for tomorrows lunch. Portion sizes are often massive in restaurants, and we often feel we need to eat it all so we don't waste our money. But this leads us to eat more than we really need - big bowl of pasta or curry might be tasty enough to eat in one go, but it will taste just as good the next day - then you get to enjoy it twice!
2. Don't go starving. Sometimes when we are going out for dinner, we will skip lunch so that we really "make the most" of our time out. Unfortunately, getting to the restaurant starving can lead us to make unhealthier choices and eat more than we really need to (we are all guilty of wolfing down our food when we are crazy with hungry, causing us to overeat and feel horribly full afterwards). I'm not saying you should eat something massive, but make sure you stick to a healthy lunch and an afternoon snack if you need it, so you arrive at the restaurant peckish and ready to eat without feeling like you need to inhale your food as soon as it arrives.
3. Plan ahead. Alright, this one takes some organisation. I always do this when I am going out for a meal because I just love food and I will be thinking about that meal out days in advance. Most restaurants these days have their menus online, so check it out before you head in. Forewarned is forearmed, and this is just the same - by browsing the menu when you are comfortably full at home and planning your choices, you are less likely to be tempted by the unhealthier choices when you arrive. In a similar vein, plan your drinks and desserts. I'm not a big fan of alcohol or soft drinks, and I can usually take or leave juices, but I LOVE dessert. So my plan is usually a shared entree, a main (with half saved for my lunch the next day) and dessert. You may find alcohol more enjoyable than dessert or want to have a glass of alcohol and share a dessert. The goal is not to remove all your favorite parts of the meal, but to plan so you don't consume to excess.
4. Add the veg. In any situation, veggies or salad should make up about half of your plate. Think about the last meal your ordered at a restaurant, did that come with half a plate of veggies? Its pretty unusual, even the vegetarian meals are usually more carbs than veggies. So when I order a meal, I usually order a side salad or a side of roasted vegetables. We should be eating 5 serves of veggies in a day, but sometimes restaurant meals don't even come with one serve! Adding veggies to your meal adds lots of beneficial nutrients, as well as fibre to help keep you feeling full. If you're not one who usually eats much veggies, and thinks your side salad might be left to eat itself when your main meal is so tempting, try eating the veggies as an entree, or at least before you start on your main meal, so that you don't fill up on that juicy rump steak and have no room for Mr. Carrot.
5. Boost the benefits. Similar to above, try to think of ways your are adding to the nutrition of your meal, rather than restricting foods. Adding veggies, whole grain foods, healthy fats are all positive ways to think about your meal.
6. Good cooking. Okay, I have given you lots of tips but none of them address how to choose a healthy meal. So here goes (don't hate me): if you are trying to eat healthy, avoid deep fried foods, foods which have a creamy or "rich" sauce or foods with excessive amounts of cheese. If you're not booing me yet, here are some healthier alternatives: roasting, steaming, grilling and stir frying. Roast duck with a side of grilled asparagus anyone? How about a Napolitana pasta with a Greek side salad?
7. Ask the experts. If you're feeling stuck about what might make your meal healthier, as the people who know the menu best - the waiters! Even if they are unsure, the chefs will know.