7 Simple Healthy Strategies for Eating Out

Eating out is no longer the luxury it once was for our parents' generation.  According to the government's "Family Food Report 2011", we each spend an average of £50 a month on eating out, with a third of meals taken outside the home.  So what we consume in restaurants is increasingly important to our overall standard of nutrition.

In accordance with a government initiative, a minority of British restaurants, including Harvester and McDonalds, have begun to publish calorie counts on their menus and food packaging. However, unlike some parts of the USA, there is not yet any legal obligation to do so.  Moreover, as we will discuss in a future blog post, all calories are not equal.  So here are some golden rules to help you stay on track with your weight loss or maintenance goals when eating out...

  1. Ditch the Fizzy Drinks.  It always amazes us when we look around in restaurants and see how many people are drinking Coke.  Diet versions are no better as they make you crave sweet foods.  Replace with free tap water and save loads of calories AND money at the same time! 
  2. Avoid the Bread.  Why spoil your appetite and ruin your enjoyment of your main course by filling up on bread whilst you are waiting? Most people are already eating too many carbohydrates.  Opt for olives instead, which are full of healthy monounsaturated fats and protect us from cancer and high blood pressure.
  3. Ask for Swaps.  Even if a dish is listed on a menu as coming with chips, there is often an alternative. Many restaurants will be perfectly happy to replace the chips with a healthier option such as salad or vegetables at no extra cost.  Remember - if you don't ask, you don't get! Ask for any salad dressings to come on the side, so you can control the portion size.
  4. Order a Fish Dish.  Eating out is the perfect opportunity to have fish without the smell invading your home.  Fish is nearly always one of the healthiest and least calorific choices on a menu (unless battered) and oily varieties such as salmon, trout or mackerel are packed with omega-3 fatty acids which protect against heart disease.
  5. Ban the Beige!  Variety of colour is a really good simple indicator of how healthy a dish is.  Anything beige will nearly always be covered in pastry or batter and/or fried and have very little nutritional value.
  6. Share A Dessert.   If you can't resist a dessert completely, then why not share one?  Most desserts in restaurants contain around twice as much fat and sugar as a chocolate bar, so half really is plenty for one person.
  7. Never Super-Size. Refuse Refills and Bottomless Chips.  If an establishment offers super-size portions, the nutritional quality of their food is likely to be very poor. As for refills and bottomless chips, anything that sabotages your weight loss efforts is never truly "free".