Dining out is a social experience that is entertaining, enjoyable and fun. Knowing how to choose a healthy meal in this setting is a valuable skill, especially if you enjoy eating out regularly. But at restaurants and takeaway outlets, it’s difficult to know what you are eating and how that food is prepared compared to cooking for yourself.
Often large amounts of high fat/high salt ingredients are used to heighten flavours. Portion sizes are typically much larger than you would serve at home which can greatly increase the energy density of the meal. Keep in mind these tips when choosing what to eat when dining out.
Fitaz Top 10 Tips for Eating Out
- Don't skip a meal on the day you're going out to eat - this can make you extra hungry and it’s harder to make nutritious choices when you are feeling ravenous. Have a small high protein snack at home like Greek yoghurt or a small tin of tuna before your meal to avoid overeating when you are out.
- Read the menu before you go so you have time to identify options that are healthy but still tasty. Some food outlets will have kilojoule labelling on the menu, this can help identify which items are more energy dense and best avoided. Scan the menu for these terms as dishes prepared this way tend to be high in added fat and salt:
Instead, look for menu items with words from the following list:
- Ask the wait staff questions about how the food is prepared if you’re unsure. You can ask for dressing and sauces to be placed on the side of your meal so you can control how much is added to dishes like salads and meat. Ask for butter to be on the side when ordering toast with a breakfast meal.
- Look for ways to add vegetables to your meals such as a side of spinach or tomatoes to your breakfast. Opt for a side dish of vegetables or salad instead of fries or garlic bread. Ask for more vegetables in your meal for example a noddle stir fry dish – ask for half the regular amount of noodles but more vegetables.
- When sharing food with others place the amount you intend to have on your plate so you can remain aware of portion sizes. Consider pizza or a bowl of chips, it can be easy to lose track of how much you have had if you are continuously picking and grazing.
- Drink water before and during the meal to increase your feeling of fullness.
- Watch out for drinks! Soft drinks, milkshakes, smoothies and juices can have an entire meal's worth of calories on top of what you are eating. Always stick to the smallest size on offer if you do choose one of these drinks.
- Limit alcohol when dining out. It’s high in energy and can increase your appetite. If you do choose to have a drink order a glass of wine, a light beer, a vodka and soda, or a simple martini. These options will be a better fit for your healthy eating goals compared to some sugary mixed drinks and cocktails.
- Slow down and chew thoroughly - this is so important for your overall digestion. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain and stomach to connect and recognise fullness. Place your utensils down between mouthfuls to slow down your pace of eating which will allow your satiety signals some time to kick in.
- Aim to eat more mindfully. This means making conscious choices about what you consume and giving your full attention to the eating process. Check your hunger level before you order. Take time to appreciate the meal with all five senses. Check in with your hunger halfway through the meal. If you are feeling satisfied, take the remainder of the meal home to enjoy at a later time.
The Transform Challenge and Eating Out
You can still enjoy eating out when taking part in the Transform Challenge. Use The Meal Builder as a guide to selecting your meal.
A breakfast meal at a café could easily fit the guide by selecting:
- Protein – 2 eggs poached or boiled
- Carbohydrate – a piece of grainy toast (ask for butter on the side)
- Fruit/Veg – add a side of spinach and tomatoes.
- Healthy Fat – butter or avocado
A lunch meal from a food court:
- Protein – grilled chicken
- Carbohydrate – wholemeal wrap
- Vegetables – lots of salads
- Healthy fat – ask for a small amount of dressing or avocado
Dinner meal with typical pub style offering
- Protein: choose a small grilled steak or baked fish
- Carbohydrate: look for a small baked potato or sweet potato option
- Vegetables: order extra salad or steamed vegetables (without added butter/dressing on the side)
- Healthy Fat: include a small amount of sauce if desired.
Also, avoid sweet drinks and alcohol when taking part in the challenge. Water, sparkling water and herbal tea are the best choices. Hold off on dessert for now to maximise your results.
Liz Borgo - Accredited Practising Dietitian/Nutritionist