Eating out regularly is becoming the new norm for many people across the world and it has been for some time. Food prepared by restaurants and takeaways account for more than 35% of food expenditure in Australia, while 1 in 4 Americans eat takeaway foods every single day and spend $660 billion on food and drinks in restaurants per year.
People eat typically eat out due to lack of time, convenience, ease, social get togethers, food variety, a break from home preparation and pleasure. Whether you are ordering a takeaway meal, grabbing a quick meal in or are enjoying fine dining, it’s always important to make the healthiest choices.
When eating out, people tend to consume:
- Larger portions
- Fattier calorie dense meals
- Refined processed carbohydrates
- More alcohol
- Sugary laden beverages
- Very little vegetables and other plant based foods
People tend to let up on any healthy dietary guidelines they may be following. It’s important of course to enjoy your meal and have some treats occasionally but it’s also important to make healthy choices!
If you want to improve or maintain your health goals choosing better options can ensure a delicious meal as well as not blowing your calories and healthy eating out of the window!
Certain foods can also negatively impact your hormones and stimulate your appetite for more calorie rich and sugary foods for the next couple of days and create more hard work. This unfortunately can be a slippery slope into unhealthy eating patterns for some.
Making good choices is simple and easy when you know what to look out for. Here are the most helpful yet simple tips to keep in mind when you are eating at a restaurant (or getting takeaway):
- Never allow yourself to be too hungry before going out or ordering takeout.
If you find yourself ravenous, try snacking on a few nuts, a piece of fruit or a fresh juice. This will ensure that you don’t overeat. When we are very famished we tend to order larger, heavier meals.
- Avoid breads and other pre-dinner table snacks.
You can consume a meals worth of calories before you even receive your meal.
- Order extra healthy sides or appetizers as your main meal.
Salads, healthy soups, vegetable bowls and platters and other healthy extras are good choices to fill up on. These contain healthy fiber, nutrients and plant compounds that will reduce your desire to eat other less healthy foods and satisfy you. For excellent health it is recommended to eat 2-3 cups of vegetables per main meal.
- Limit refined carbohydrates.
Avoid meals that contain large amounts of breads, pasta and rice such as burgers, pizza, pasta dishes, tortillas, pastry and risottos. These meals tend to be high in calories, but loaded with empty carbs with little nutrient dense ingredients.
- Avoid oils as much as possible when eating out.
Restaurants tend to use vegetable oil blends that are highly processed to allow a high smoke point. (No one wants to see smoke pouring out from the kitchen with high heat grills and ovens). These are often stripped of their nutrients to increase the shelf life and are often the worst types such as GMO cottonseed oil, canola and soybean oil. Even using healthy oils can then become unhealthy. It’s better to order oven roasted, steamed, stewed or grilled lightly.
- Avoid deep fried foods.
These are fried at high temperatures and they are full of oxidized by-products which can increase inflammation and hormonal disturbances.
- Ask for dressings and sauces on the side.
This ensures that your meal isn’t drowning in excess heavy calories and you can still enjoy the sauce at your own pace and quantities. If it looks like a heavy dressing that you want to avoid, ask for vinegar, lemon and/or olive oil on the side in place. Choose simple fresh sauces/sides such as salsa, guacamole, hummus, tomato bases and other freshly made sauces.
- Avoid colourless meals.
This means a meal without vegetables should never happen. Order meals that are focused around healthy guidelines such as a portion of protein (meat, fish or vegetarian) with lots of fresh vegetables/salads.
- Avoid eating sauces that are pre-made.
Just ask. Often the main ingredients are sugar, artificial colors, preservatives, additives and MSG and your server will be able to tell you what’s made fresh, in-house.
- Avoid patties, fish, seafood, meats and meals that are pre-made frozen and imported.
You can ask about this too. Premade foods are often a chemical maze. I did this on Sunday and I changed my order after I found out! Phew!
- Limit or avoid desserts.
Consume a herbal tea to finish off your meal rather than dessert or if you choose to eat dessert it’s best to choose fruit based desserts or simply share this with a few people (the more the merrier) so you enjoy the taste without eating a meals worth of calories. The most enjoyment comes only from the first few mouthfuls of a dessert.
- Skip sugar laden drinks.
Order sparkling water with a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime, herbal tea or if you are drinking alcohol choose sugar free drinks such as spirit with sparkling water or dry wines.
- Eat slowly.
Enjoy the atmosphere and/or your company. Eating slowly reduces your overall food consumption.
- Sharing is caring (for your body).
Order multiple light entrees and healthy sides and share with others to enjoy more variety without the quantity.
It’s all about enjoying the experience. If you plan on going out and it’s your favourite restaurant then eat lightly in the lead up, this can help you stay on track or if you eat out more often then choose the best options most of the time.