There was a time when we couldn’t even step out of the house, let alone into a restaurant! The concept of going out to eat again is an exciting one. If you’re hoping to enjoy some newfound freedom whilst ensuring you stay on track with any healthy or diet-related goals (this includes fitting into that killer dress), read on for our best tips for helping you to stay on track when in the face of a tempting menu.
Check the menu and make a game plan
Being in a restaurant can be overwhelming for the eyes and the nose, and can lead you to make unhealthy choices if you turn up hungry and unsure of what to order. Forget eyes bigger than your appetite, sometimes you’ll have eyes bigger than your calorie budget, and end up ordering one of everything just for the novelty of it all. We all had a point during lockdown where we dreamt in creamy and cheesy pasta sauces, and it can be hard to resist when it’s right there on the menu, so take time to get strong before you go, and work out a game plan.
Alongside this, often the pressure of ordering, and seeing what others order, can influence our decisions negatively. Most restaurants put their menu online, so it can sometimes be helpful to check the menu beforehand and decide on what you want to get without the influence of other people telling you how amazing the fried chicken sounds, how delicious the pizza is (we’re not dribbling, you are). This also gives you ample time to make healthy choices and decide on any substitutions. Sometimes the nutritional information is online too, so you are able to inform your choices, plan your day of meals ahead and pick the healthiest option for you.
Choosing water to drink with your meal instead of a sweet, high-calorie drink can significantly lower the calories of your meal and help to fill you up as you eat, meaning you’re much less likely to overeat, and overdrink. Plus, drinking water before you go out for the meal with help to make you feel full and help to limit over-ordering. Water is the most satisfying drink for quenching thirst- people stranded on a desert island aren’t after a Cosmopolitan, they want water, and for good reason- it’s the elixir of life.
If you’re wanting to drink alcohol with your meals but want to limit yourself, make sure you’re drinking water alongside it. Drinking water with alcohol can help you consume less of the hidden calories found in alcohol- unless it’s one of those nights where a few glasses of wine are necessary, in which case we won’t judge. Try choosing smaller serves of alcohol- like a bottle of beer instead of a pint, a small glass of wine instead of a large, a single shot of spirit instead of a double, as this helps to lower the calories. Dry wine (preferably red), whisky, tequila and light beers are healthier options to drink, and try mixing any spirits with slimline, low calorie or zero sugar mixers.
Pace yourself by drinking a glass of water between tipples, as this help to ensure you’re keeping your drinking in moderation, and reduce the splitting headache to the following day. Place your water closer to you than your wine glass so that you have to work harder to reach the alcohol- you’ll be surprised at how often we mindlessly drink whatever is near, so make your nearest your healthiest.
Go for healthy cooking methods
Often, menus tell us everything we need to know about how healthy certain food is by describing how they are cooked. Try to opt for healthier cooking methods, such as grilled, roasted, poached and steamed, as these foods are less likely to be drenched in oil and fat. Try to steer away from descriptions such as fried, crispy, sauteed and creamy (easier said than done, we know), as these can be full of oils and fats that’ll make your meal much less healthy.
Smaller but mightier
Despite how it may feel when we sit down in a restaurant, there are actually no rules to eating out (apart from taking the silverware home). If you know the main meals where you’re eating are too large or not to your taste, perhaps opt for two starters, or a starter and a side instead. Mixing and matching means you’re able to enjoy a larger range of dishes- think of it as mindful tapas. This is still likely to fill you up but will be a smaller portion, and will also allow you to control what you’re eating more and customise your meal- you may choose a soup with a side of roasted veg and salad, which is much healthier.
Customise dinner like a pro
Don’t be afraid to ask to adapt your meal- often restaurants are happy to switch out particular foods for healthier options if these are foods that they have on offer. Opt for a salad or veg- steamed chilli broccoli or roasted root vegetables, and ask for any sauces or dressings on the side so you can control how much you use. All of these choices can have a significant effect on how healthy you end up eating and can lower your calorie intake drastically.
Sharing is caring
If there’s something on the menu, like a particularly delicious, irresistible and chocolate-drowned dessert that you’re not sure you can or should muster on your own, share one with a friend. Half the portion is half the calories, and you still get to taste and enjoy the thing you’re craving. Order things for the table so everyone can try a bit of everything- vegetables, little starters, allow yourself smaller tastes of all the things you want to eat. Your friends will enjoy the selection, too!
Hold your horses
We’ve all done the mindless continuous shovelling of food into our mouths- the second the food is in there, the fork is already primed and ready for the next bite. I don’t mean to sound like anyone’s teacher leering at the lunch table, but as well as not chewing with your mouth open or picking your teeth with a kebab stick, not rushing your food is a fair rule for eating well, too. Not because we’re strict and want you to have a horrible time, but because we want you to enjoy your food. Put your cutlery down between each bite and chew your food up well.
Take time to enjoy your surroundings, the scenery, and your company. Remember when we couldn’t go out or even see our loved ones? Take in the beauty of the moment and take time to enjoy it.
It is also said to take about 20 minutes for your brain to realise you’re full, so if you eat fast you are much more likely to eat past the point of fullness because it hasn’t registered yet. This can mean you’re much more likely to overeat. Eating slowly gives you more time to realise that you are feeling full and allows you to stop before you eat too much.
Keep it light beforehand
‘Don’t eat that or you’ll spoil your dinner!’ Our mothers were persistent, but they had a point. If you think you’re likely to eat big at the restaurant- and that there’s no real way around it, try to eat lighter, healthier meals during the day beforehand to help accommodate your larger dinner. This will also help to alleviate any feelings of guilt you may have towards eating something more unhealthy for a meal, as you ensured you ate healthily before.
Think about your diet or healthy eating goals as a whole. Sometimes we want to eat the foods we love and not feel guilty about it, and sometimes an occasion is special and we don’t want to have to limit ourselves. That’s the beauty of life! The world won’t stop turning if you have a choc ice. Being flexible about your diet and your choices- especially in the face of special events, can make your diets much easier to manage and result in more positive outcomes in the long run.
Dieting and eating healthily isn’t about punishing yourself, so make sure you look at how your meal fits into your diet as a whole. Food is to be enjoyed not criminalised- one unhealthy meal wont land you in the slammer, just make sure that if you fall off your targets for the evening that you carry back on your healthy eating again after. Take a walk after dinner to compensate, or keep breakfast light the following morning. Sometimes life is too short to turn down the mac and cheese.
Going out for a meal should be something we adore, not something we over-trivialise, and there’s no reason we can’t eat healthily when we’re eating out- it just requires a tad more thought. Hopefully, these tips will help to ease feelings of confusion and guilt, and help you to choose the best options for you while still staying on track for your healthy eating goals. Eating out doesn’t need to be unhealthy, but also doesn’t need to be boring.
Our Balance Boxes ensure that your healthy eating is anything but boring. With a meal plan that lets you eat a variety of different foods, you won’t even know you’re on a diet. Choose your box now.