For many people, regularly eating away from home has become a way of life, with some finding that they eat out almost as often as they eat at home. This is often due to work commitments or business lunches, but if this is the case for you it’s important to choose carefully from the menu.
Making healthy food choices requires a good understanding of nutrition, so that way you’ll know exactly which meals are the best options in terms of fat, sugar and salt. It also requires a little planning, so that you can budget your calories throughout the day and have more to spare at the restaurant.
It has been suggested that the average person who goes to a restaurant or someone else’s home for dinner will eat in that one meal at least a whole day’s normal calorie intake, and possibly more.
If you find yourself eating away from home regularly what can you do?
Consider what you will be eating or what you have already eaten that day and choose something from the menu which will balance out your whole days eating. You may need to compromise a little between the foods you should eat and those that aren’t so healthy for your heart and your waistline.
When you’re at a restaurant remember that you’re the paying customer, so if you find that the menu doesn’t cater to your needs ask your waiter or waitress if the chef will cook a healthier alternative.
A good “rule of thumb” to help you with portioning is to ensure that vegetables or salad take up the largest portion of your plate (50%), with carbohydrate foods being around 25% of your plate and 25% should be lean meat or an alternative.
12 top tips to help you choose wisely when eating away from home:
- Unless unavoidable, limit yourself to two courses.
- Avoid nibbling on nuts or chips before your meal. Choose raw vegetables with a low fat dip, if available.
- If you’re unsure of the ingredients, ask your waiter or waitress.
- If you think the meal is too high in fat, salt or sugar, ask if the chef will make a healthier version.
- Choose melon, salad, fish or vegetable based soup for your starter rather than deep fried or breaded foods.
- Avoid main courses that have been deep fried, breaded, battered or those that come with a rich creamy sauce.
- Choose meats that have been grilled, baked, poached, roasted, boiled, steamed, broiled or lightly stir-fried.
- Always include plenty of vegetables (unbuttered) or salad with your main course.
- Ask for sauces, gravy, butter or salad dressings on the side. This way you can choose to eat a smaller amount and opt for those that have a tomato or vegetable base, where possible.
- If you decide to have dessert, choose a fruit based pudding or sorbet rather than cheesecake, gateau, pastries, or cheese and biscuits.
- Try to eat a similar portion size to what you would at home.
- Don’t give yourself a license to overeat just because you’re at a restaurant - eat slowly and selectively, and stop when you feel full.
Simply by choosing wisely and asking for what you need, your cholesterol or waistline shouldn’t suffer a great deal; eating out can therefore continue to be something you really enjoy.
Melanie Thomassian is a dietician, and author of Dietriffic.com, an online resource for credible dietary advice, exercise tips, and much more