Eating out while on a diet? Dining out gives us less control over what we’re eating, but it’s still possible to enjoy restaurant meals healthily.
Research suggests that food we eat outside of home makes up between a fifth or a quarter (20 to 25%) of our total calorie intake. On average the portions of food or drink that we eat out (or eat as takeaways) contain twice as many calories as their equivalent bought in a shop.
If you’re heading eating out while on a diet, here are our top tips for healthier restaurant dining…
Many restaurants publish their menu on their website so you can take time to identify the healthier options in advance. It’s easy to get distracted by conversation once you meet your dining companions and end up reverting to an old favourite, under pressure when the waiter arrives. Taking time to consider what you’re going to order ahead of time can help you avoid making snap decisions that don’t support your health goals.
DON’T ARRIVE OVERLY HUNGRY
If you need to, have a healthy snack before getting to the restaurant. Arriving at the restaurant with low blood sugar levels is unlikely to support healthy decision making. If you’re on the go, organise a small bag of unroasted nuts or a protein bar ahead of time.
AVOID THE BREAD BASKET
Bread, especially white bread, is a high glycemic food. This means it’s quickly broken down into simple sugars causing a spike in your blood sugar levels. This spike is typically followed by a drop that results in low energy levels. Bread is also one of the most common causes of bloating. If you fancy something to start your meal with, opt for olives instead.
If you’re planning to drink, have something to eat first. This will slow the absorption of alcohol into your system and limit the negative effects alcohol has on your blood sugar level. In a restaurant environment it can be easy to lose track of how much you’re drinking. Especially when someone else is topping up your glass. If you feel it would help you keep track of how much you’ve had to drink, consider explaining to the waiter or waitress that you’re happy to top up your glass yourself.
MAKE SMART MEAL CHOICES
Rather than choosing dishes based on pasta, rice or noodles, opt for one based around protein. Seafood, fish or vegetarian proteins such as beans and lentils (Indian restaurants usually offer a variety) or tofu (commonly available at oriental restaurants) are good options. Most restaurant offer vegetable side dishes which can add a flavourful accompaniment to your main dish.
EDIT YOUR ORDER
When ordering remember you can ask for something different to what’s on the menu. For example, ask for the chips to be replaced with some seasonal vegetables or a fresh salad. You can ask for dressings to come on the side, or swap them for olive oil. Don’t be afraid to ask for things to be changed. Most restaurants are used to dealing with a range of dietary requirements and are normally happy to accommodate swaps.
Slow down your eating, chew your food thoroughly and recognise when you are starting to feel full. Eating out doesn’t have to mean overeating. If you have leftovers that you don’t want to go to waste, ask the restaurant to pack them up for you to take home. Most restaurants are more than happy to do this.
END ON A SWEETER NOTE
If you fancy something sweet at the end of your meal but are opting for healthier restaurant dining, why not share a dessert instead of having one all to yourself? Or see if you can order a bowl of berries like raspberries and strawberries.
Eating out on a diet can be a stress-free, enjoyable experience. Just follow these tips to ensure you stay on track with your healthy habits.