Eating out is fun. But as a clinical nutritionist practitioner, I have found that most of my clients are quite wary about food choices and end up feeling guilty after a social or a family outing. There is confusion in their minds about what to order and how to choose the right foods. In fact, several studies have pointed out that eating out can lead to over-eating and poor food choices.
Here are a few tips to help you to choose your food at your favorite restaurants or at social gatherings without sacrificing your health goals:
- Plan your outings: It’s always beneficial to keep the number of outings few, say not more than 1 to 2 meals a week. If you know in advance which restaurant you are visiting, then check out the menu on their website, so you can plan what to order. Choosing food before you arrive makes it easier to avoid snap decisions which you might regret later.
- Eat a healthy snack before you arrive: Especially if you know the healthy choices are limited. For example, a burger café might not offer any healthy choices. A low calorie snack like roasted chana or yogurt can make you feel full and limit the intake of high calorie junk.
- Drink water: Before and during your meal. Replacing sugary cocktails like margaritas or pina coladas or juices with plain water is a great way to avoid additional calories.
- Be the first to order: Usually, in social situations people mimic each other and eating out is no exception. Be first to order so that your decisions or choice of menu is not influenced by others.
- Go from low to high: Order a salad or a clear soup before ordering any other dish on the menu. Tossed salads, boiled chana salad, lemon coriander soup, green salad with separate salad dressing are a few options. This can be followed by a healthy snack such as barbecued chicken, grilled fish, steamed momos, barbecued or stir fried veggies. Desserts should be limited, instead, opt for fruits or black coffee.
- Always ask and be specific: About how the food is prepared and what does the gravy contain etc. Talk to the head waiter about the menu. Menu descriptions that are creamy, crispy, stuffed, fried, dipped, scalloped are likely to be loaded with fat and sodium. Skip bread baskets, butter rotis, naans and have plain tandoori dishes. Opt for tomato-based gravies and not white cheese-based ones.
- Portion size: It is always better to share a dish with huge portion sizes such as sizzlers, biryanis or burgers. Else, order for a smaller portion or you can also ask the waiter to wrap up excess portion in ‘take home’ containers.
- Slow & chew: Eating out should be an enjoyable event involving family, friends and good times. So, try and shift your focus from eating to enjoying. Eat slowly and chew thoroughly, this ensures less calorie intake and helps avoid overeating.
- Beware of buffet mania: People generally underestimate portion sizes at free-to-eat buffet meals. Remember, you don’t have to eat everything that’s been laid out. Pick 2 or 3 dishes which you like the best. Simple techniques like taking a smaller plate will help. If it’s a big plate then fill half of the plate with salads and vegetables.
- Limit alcohol and mixers: Even a healthy alcoholic drink like red wine can add significant calories (1 glass about 280 calories) to your diet. So take a small measure of alcohol, say 45 ml of vodka/ gin/ whisky or a small glass of wine, and use low calorie mixers like tonic water, lemon water or diet drinks, instead of juices or aerated sugary drinks.
Finally, it is always better to look at your diet holistically. Everybody likes to eat out once in a while for pleasure without worrying about whether it’s healthy or not. If you are following a good diet most of the times, then occasional indulgence will not affect your health adversely and it’s good for your soul too. Just focus on mindful eating without feeling guilty and dining out would be a great getaway!
Consultant dietician and nutritionist