Eating out can be a real pleasure; lots of choice, a chance to spend time with friends, no washing up… However, it can also be a real challenge if you are trying to make healthy choices. Restaurant foods are often high in salt to bring out the flavour, high in fat as it lends a creamy texture to the food, higher in sugar to keep us craving more. So how can you try to make the right choices?
White meat is lower in fat than red meat, so opt for poultry where possible. However, it is nice to choose something at a restaurant that you don’t cook at home, so if you choose red meat pay attention to the cut of the meat and how it is cooked. A pork belly is extremely high in fat, whereas a pork chop with the fat trimmed off is amazingly lean. If you are having bacon, ask if it is grilled or fried. Game or ‘wild’ meats such as rabbit, pheasant and venison are gaining popularity in Britain, and often make very lean (low fat) choices.
Despite popular belief, carbs aren’t evil. In fact, they are essential. However, again it’s all in the cooking method. Chips for example are normally deep fried, so are a vey high calorie choice. ‘Thin’ chips (the irony of the name is not lost on me) or crinkle-cut absorb more fat during cooking than ‘fat’ chips, so are best avoided. Bread before the meal is often unnecessary, as you would be quite full enough without it, and is a perfect vehicle for butter or olive oil, which again ramp up the fat content of the meal.
Cream-based sauces are high in saturated ‘bad’ fat and calories, so try to choose the tomato based sauces. For example, penne arrabbiata would make a better choice than pasta carbonara. Sauces are often high in salt and sugar; ask the waiter or waitress for advice. They can always check with the kitchen if they are unsure! Salads can make great choices for a starter, but beware of the dressings. Mayonnaise comes in at a whopping 110 calories per tablespoon!
If you meal does not come with vegetables, always order them as a side. Alternatively, you could ask the kitchen to substitute something in your meal (such as mashed potato or fries) for cooked veg or a side salad.
They add beautiful colour to the plate, too!
Drinks do not fill us up the same way food does. Choosing high calorie drinks will ramp up the total energy content of the meal without filling you up. If you opt for an alcoholic drink, you could always choose a shandy over a beer or a spritzer over a glass of wine. When choosing fizzy drinks, choose the low sugar or sugar-free varieties. But most importantly, make sure you drink lots of water! If the food is higher in salt than you are used to, you are likely to get dehydrated. Then compound this with a bit more alcohol and you could be left feeling headache-y the following day. Sometimes when we are feeling hungry we are actually thirsty, so get the water on board early on in the meal to judge your appetite more accurately.
I am not going to say don’t have pudding. Why? Because that’s not realistic. I am definitely a pudding person as my family and friends can testify. But there are puddings and puddings. Wait until after your main meal and only order one if you are hungry. Then think about what type you will choose. One portion of fruit or vegetables is 80g, whether its raw or cooked, so choosing a pudding made with a baked fruit (such as rhubarb crumble or my own baked apples) can count towards one of your 5-a-day! Avoid chocolate or cream based puddings where possible, or choose them but share with a friend!
My delicious baked apples recipe; a great pudding choice!
When I was young, I was taught by my parents to eat everything on my plate. However, when I moved to America I have a distinct memory of my parents telling me NOT to eat everything on my plate. The portions were often, quite simply, vast. And Britain is catching up. We no longer live in a post-war era where food is scarce; leaving food on your plate is not rude, its sensible. If you are ordering lots of smaller dishes to share, ask the waiter how many he or she would recommend, then subtract a few as in my experience they over-estimate (or over-sell!)
And for speedy, healthy menu reading:
Beware of the following words, as they roughly translate as ‘fatty and sugary.’
- Au gratin
And lastly but most importantly, a change in EU laws that came in December 2014 means that food outlets must be able to tell you all the ingredients in your food (for allergy reasons). Quite often, they will give you some of the nutritional information too – so ask!