It’s officially summer and we’re already well into the start of the party season. Every other day seems to be an excuse to catch up with family, friends and colleagues for a drink or two and a meal out. The weather is warming up and we’re one step closer to Christmas and New Year, where some of us are lucky enough to get some time off, so invitations to mid-week sessions are no longer declined due to it being a ‘school night’ and instead are mostly being very happily accepted (as they should be!).
What this means though is eating out, which was typically left to weekends, is going from being a once or twice a week treat to a majority. Instead of saying no to meals out or even worse going out and feeling guilty about it, it’s time to get smart and learn how to make healthy food choices when out and about.
As we know, takeaway, café and restaurant options are often very calorie-dense and usually cooked with excess fat and sugar. These foods are very high in energy and as we know, to lose weight we must exert more energy than we consume. There is no need to fear eating out because it is possible to make healthy food choices when eating out, and this can help to maximise weight loss if you’re looking to lose weight this time of year or at the very least help with weight maintenance over the holiday period.
Here are my top 10 guidelines that, instead of restricting takeout, will help you make healthy eating choices easier when out.
- Keep choices as lean and clean as possible, without added extras. Do this by avoiding fried, deep-fried, crumbed and battered foods. Examples include fried chicken, battered or crumbed fish, and potato chips, as these are almost always deep-fried.
- Avoid foods made with creamy based sauces such as creamy pasta (carbonara), creamy based soups (potato and leek, or pumpkin with cream), and curries. Choose options in tomato-based sauces instead.
- Avoid butter, salad dressings and all added sauces such as mayonnaise, sour cream, ranch, sweet chili, aioli, chipotle, honey mustard, and marina sauces.
- Avoid added options to your meals such as sour cream, cheese, guacamole, and the like.
Fast food stores and restaurants often use full fat products, and add extra fats and sugar to these items. These extra options will further increase the energy and fat content of your takeaway or restaurant meal.
- Avoid fattier meats such as bacon, sausages, and any parts of chicken besides breast and choose lean proteins cooked in a healthy way. Examples include grilled chicken breast, fish (e.g.. barramundi), poached eggs and steak.
- Choose still or sparkling water as a drink instead of soft drinks, juices and alcohol. Consider herbal tea at the end of your meal.
- Have one main meal as opposed to an entrée, main meal and dessert.
- Bread is often complimentary not compulsory.
- Ask how big a serve is. If the serve is large don’t be afraid to ask for an entrée size and don’t be afraid to leave food on your plate. Listen to your stomach, eat slowly and stop when you are full.
- Plan before you go out and try and choose a restaurant that has healthy options.
Here are some helpful hints and food swaps for helping you choose healthier dishes for the different cuisines and restaurants you may be visiting.
Choose dishes and sushi with brown rice and grilled chicken, or fish (tuna, or salmon), with vegetables – for example, lettuce or cucumber.
Avoid options with added sauces and mayonnaise. Note: California (crab) rolls often already have mayonnaise mixed through with the seafood.
Sandwiches or wraps
You can still choose sandwiches or wraps from cafes, restaurants or even fast food takeaway stores. Choose a wholegrain bread/ or wrap or gluten free options if this is a requirement or preference for you and try and avoid heavy breads such as focaccias.
Select your fillings carefully. Choose a lean protein such as grilled chicken breast, ham, turkey, lean beef strips or tuna. Ensure the fat and skin has been removed. Add lots of vegetables (make sure to get your greens in). This will help keep you fuller for longer. Avoid adding butter or extra sauces, avocado, hummus, dressings. If you do add extra sauces, keep it to a minimum instead of lathered on.
Not all salads are healthy! Many salads are drenched in dressing often making them a worse option than an alternative on the menu. Select salads with a lean protein such as grilled chicken breast or fish, ham, turkey, lean beef or tuna and lots of green fibrous veggies to keep you full for longer. You can also select a salad with a small portion of carbohydrates. You don’t need to say no to salads that come with chickpeas, quinoa, lentils, brown rice or sweet potato. Just make sure it isn’t the bulk of your salad. If you get a dressing, ask them to put it on the side and add approximately one tablespoon to your salad. Your food should by tasty so don’t just skip the dressing entirely in the anticipation that your salad is healthy. Not many people like a salad without dressing and that just becomes bland and sad!
Want Italian? No problem at all. You can choose salads or soups which are often on the menu. If choosing a soup just try and choose a tomato rather than cream based soup. You can also select a pasta just choose an entrée rather than main size. You can add a lean protein such as lean meat or chicken breast and opt for a pasta in a tomato or vegetable based sauce. Avoid the garlic bread and pizzas.
If the idea of Mexican and margaritas are your thing, you’ll be happy to hear there are healthier options you can select. Avoid nachos and hard-shell tacos and chips as they’re deep fried. We also suggest avoiding enchiladas as they often come in very large servings, and added extras such as guacamole and sour cream. Instead, choose small burrito bowls, soft shell tacos, mini burritos and salads with a lean protein, serve of beans and lots of salad. Instead of having a full service of rice to yourself, just have a half serve of brown rice.
Vegetarian options can be a relatively healthy choice, for the most part. Healthy examples include falafel dishes, vegetarian patties that have not been deep-fried and vegetarian dishes that are not cream based or fried pastries.
Planning to have a pub meal? Who doesn’t love a pub meal? Choose a meal where ¼ of your plate has a lean protein such as a grilled fish or chicken breast and ¾ of your plate is packed with lots of salad or vegetables.
Avoid fried foods like battered fish or schnitzel, sauces, hot chips and mashed potato (likely to be made with lots of butter and cream.
Food and friends make life fun so why not enjoy them both? The choice is not whether to accept of decline an invitation but rather what to order when you do..
Lexy Meyerson is the founder of Australia’s leading fitness streaming service, VARLAH. Check out the VARLAH Instagram or Facebook page for nutrition advice, meal prep ideas, fitness and training tips.