We all love treating ourselves to a meal out with family or friends but when you’re watching your diet, things can sometimes go awry. Eating out is fun and sociable and just because you might be watching what you’re eating doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever eat out, after all it’s fun and sociable! However, eating out has also been linked to overeating and poor food choices but there are strategies you can use and swaps you can make to ensure you’re not letting any hard work and progress you’ve made go to waste.

Here are some tips to help you!

Before you go to the restaurant:

  • If it’s possible, try to be the person to book the restaurant. If it’s a place and a menu you know, then you’ll feel more comfortable ordering as you’ll know what to expect. Try to avoid buffets as it becomes almost impossible to portion control your meal.
  • If you’re going somewhere you’ve never been before, make sure you read the menu before you go. Most menu’s are online so you can start to plan what you can have. You can even put a call into the restaurant if you want more details on any items on the menu i.e. is a dish baked or fried for example. If you turn up to a restaurant without any insights on what it serves, you’re more likely to make unhealthy choices due to being distracted by the person who you’re with, or the smell or sight of food.
  • Don’t turn up to a meal ravenously hungry. If you need to, have a healthy snack beforehand. If we’re starving we tend to overeat.
  • Set yourself some boundaries – if you’re going with a friend who you know who can twist your arm to make poor food or drink choices then knowing what your boundaries are before you go can help you stick to them! Alcohol frequently comes into this; instead of ordering a bottle of wine, opt for your own glass or alcoholic with a low calorie mixer.
  • Make sure you’re well hydrated before getting to the restaurant to ensure you’re hunger is true hunger rather than just being thirsty.

When Ordering:

  • Check how a dish is prepared – is it fried, grilled, baked or poached for example? Eggs are a classic example, try to opt for poached, boiled or baked over fried eggs covered in oil or fat. Ideally you want what you’re ordering to be steamed, grilled, roasted or poached. Dishes that are described as pan-fried, fried, crispy, crunchy or sautéed are likely to contain more calories.
  • Ask for dressings or sauces to go on the side or for no dressing/sauce at all. We can have a seemingly healthy meal, but sometimes the dressings are full of calories and unhealthy fats so by opting for it to go on the side you can control how much you have. Equally you could ask for no dressing/sauce and for some olive oil or balsamic vinegar on the side so you can dress food yourself.
  • Consider opting for two appetizers instead of an appetizer and a main, or, you could just order a main or an appetizer and a side – there are many combinations for a more portion controlled choice. If we’re offered larger portions then we generally tend to eat them so not putting the temptation in front of you in the first place will help tremendously! If you’re still hungry after eating you could always order more later. It’s better to add to your meal rather than over order.
  • Don’t be shy to ask for healthy food swaps. Instead of having chips or roasted potatoes with your meal, ask for an extra portion of vegetables. Chips and roasted potatoes are cooked in oil and will be higher in calories where as a side salad or extra portion of green vegetables for example will be higher in fibre, vitamins and minerals whilst being lower in calories.
  • You don’t need to order food just for yourself, you could always share your meal with someone else, therefore helping you avoid over eating.
  • Try to avoid creamy sauces and opt for a tomato sauce instead as it will be lower in calories.
  • If something is labeled vegan, vegetarian or organic, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthier. Remember, chocolate bars are vegan in most cases! Look at the dish as a whole – does it contain a balance of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats? Lots of vegan dishes are made up of nut substitutes so can be higher in calories.
  • Opt for a fresh mint tea, any other herbal tea or a coffee (including decaff) over a dessert. Very often we’re full from the actual meal so we don’t really need a dessert, which mostly come sugar laden and high in calories. If you do opt for a dessert, then a sorbet rather than a cake is a lighter option.
  • As a general rule opting for a lean protein with a side of vegetables is your safest bet. The protein will help to make you feel full while the vegetables will offer vitamins, minerals and fibre to help you feel full as well as provide nutrients for good health.

When Eating Your Meal:

  • You’re eating out to enjoy a meal with someone – whether it be family, a loved one or friends so you want to enjoy your time together. There’s therefore no need to rush! Make the most of your time together by taking your time and savoring your meal. This means being mindful about eating slowly, chewing your food and taking time between each mouthful.
  • Avoid the bread basket at the start of the meal – these are just empty calories that add up by the end of the meal.
  • Try to not add any extra salt – most restaurant cooked meals have already been seasoned so you shouldn’t have to add extra salt on top. Too much salt can effect our blood pressure and also make us more thirsty making an extra beer or wine that much more appealing!
  • Stop when you’re full! This is easier said than done. We tend to just eat unconsciously and try to finish everything on our plate. Listen to your body and stop eating when you need to.
  • If you don’t feel like you’ve ordered enough you could always order a side salad or a side of vegetables to bulk up your meal.

Simple Food Swaps:

  • Swap chips for an extra portion of vegetables or for potatoes that have been steamed, baked or boiled.
  • Swap pies, bacon and sausages for leaner cuts of meat, pulses, or fish.
  • Swap creamy sauces for a tomato or vegetable based sauce as this will help to boost your vegetable intake.
  • Ask for vegetables to come without butter, dressings or mayonnaise and ask to have olive oil on the side so you can see how much you’re using.
  • Swap fizzy drinks for sparkling water and fresh lime
  • Swap fried foods for baked, boiled or steamed alternatives, even rice. You could opt for steamed rice over fried rice.
Chris Farquhar