How to eat healthily in restaurants

4 min read

How to eat healthily in restaurants
Healthy eating doesn't have to mean avoiding your favourite restaurants! Here are some tips for making healthier choices when you eat out
When ordering at restaurants, don’t feel shy about asking questions and making special requests to ensure that your meal is exactly what you want. Your waiter is the link between table and kitchen. Make them your ally. And don’t be shy about tipping a helpful waiter, either. These tricks will help you to avoid empty kilojoules, leaving you free to enjoy your meal without guilt.

How to make healthier choices

Banish the bread basket
To avoid 2100 kilojoules of blood sugar-raising refined carbohydrates and artery-blocking saturated fat, ask the waiter to take the bread-and-butter basket away. (Or just take a single piece.)
Start with water
After a glass of water, limit yourself to one or two glasses of wine or beer and have it with your meal. For many people, alcohol is a trigger for nibbling, so sipping while you wait means your resolve about the bread may just weaken.
Ask lots of questions
Is the chicken in the salad grilled or in batter and then fried? What’s in the mashed potatoes? Can you have two vegetables instead of the chips? Can the fish be grilled? Most restaurants will be happy to accommodate you; if there’s a small extra charge, it’s usually worth it.
Waiter taking order at a restaurant
Always ask for sauces and dressings separately
You don’t need lashings of creamy dressing on your salad. When possible, choose dressings and sauces made with good fats such as olive oil instead of with cream and butter. Spoon a little over your food or dip the ends of your fork into the sauce before spearing a forkful of food. Plan to leave most of the dressing or sauce uneaten.
Choose a sensible entree
Avoid kilojoule-laden entrees such as pate or anything deep-fried. You are much better off choosing something fruit- or vegetable-based, like melon, vegetable-based soup, salad, shellfish or smoked salmon.
Avoid "super-size" portions
It’s hard to believe, but some china manufacturers have re-sized their dinner plates to accommodate restaurant portions that are now two to seven times bigger than before. Even the healthiest menu choice can become unhealthy for your heart in those quantities.
"Even the healthiest menu choice can become unhealthy in those quantities"
Firstly, look at the portions served to other people in the restaurant. If they look huge, order two entrees instead of a main course. Make one protein-based and the other vegetable-based. Then decide whether you would rather have an entree or a dessert and only order one or the other. Or agree to share your dessert with one of your dining companions. Then share the main course and order a small salad to go with it, for yourself. And remember to check with the waiter to see which vegetables come with your dish. You may want to order an extra portion of vegetables if you’re not having a salad.
While some restaurants may discourage it, try ordering a child’s meal for yourself, or ask for an entree-sized main course. Ironically, children’s meals at major fast-food chains are often the size an adult portion was 20 years ago. A hamburger, small portion of chips and a low-fat milkshake or orange juice are surprisingly filling and contain a fraction of the kilojoules of "super-size" adult meals. Fast food is not particularly nutritious, but for those who are having trouble breaking their fast-food habit, this could be a reasonable compromise. And don’t forget the salad bar!

Dishes to choose and dishes to avoid 

Chinese food
  • Choose: Stir-fried (with little or no oil); steamed dishes with lots of vegetables; steamed rice; poached fish; dishes that contain chicken, seafood or just vegetables; plain rice or noodles. Satay and chow mein dishes have medium fat, so choose them as a treat.
  • Avoid: Fried foods such as crispy wonton appetisers, egg or spring rolls, fried rice and prawn crackers; sweet-and-sour dishes; crispy fried beef or duck; anything cooked in batter; deep-fried dim sum—ask for steamed, instead.
Indian food
  • Choose: Pappadums with cucumber raita and lime pickle; chapatis made without fat; tandoori, tikka (but not tikka masala), karia and bhuna; spinach-based dishes (sag is usually not high in fat). Check that vegetable dishes such as aloo gobi are cooked in oil, not ghee.
  • Avoid: Oily dishes such as bhaji, samosa or pakhora; breads made with added fat such as peshawi, paratha and puris; creamy dishes such as korma, masala and dhansak. Check for ghee in dupiaza, vindaloo and Madras. Avoid fried rice, biryani and pilau. Check if dhal is cooked in ghee.
Chicken tandoori
Italian/French food
  • Choose: Salads with a small amount of dressing; baked or grilled poultry and meat dishes; poached or steamed fish; pasta with tomato-, onion- and basil-based sauces; roasted vegetables; thin-based pizzas with vegetable toppings and ham, chicken or tuna. Nibble bread sticks or crusty bread. 
  • Avoid: Garlic bread and rich dressings on salads; salami and pepperoni; dishes described as à la creme, au gratin, alfredo, bechamel, en croute, Florentine, hollandaise or Milanese (amongst others)—they all contain extra "hidden" fat.
Japanese food
  • Choose: Sushi and sashimi, soba or udon noodles, yakitori (chicken teriyaki), shumai (steamed dumplings), tofu, sukiyaki and kayaku gohan (vegetables and rice).
  • Avoid: Shrimp or vegetable tempura, chicken katsu, tonkatsu (fried pork), shrimp agemono and fried tofu (bean curd).
Pub food
  • Choose: Carrot and coriander (or other vegetable) soup, spicy potato wedges, jacket potato with baked beans or vegetable chilli, salmon with vegetables and new potatoes, moussaka, beef casserole or steak with vegetables and potato wedges or mashed potatoes. Finish with fruit salad or apple crumble.
  • Avoid: Creamy soups, cheese ploughman’s lunch, baked potato with cheese or coleslaw, fish and chips, Wiener schnitzel, steak and kidney pie, mixed grill.
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