16 Tips To Help You Eat Healthy When Dining Out
Before we even dive into this topic, let’s make something clear. We are not about to suggest you order a salad or a tiny portion every time you order a meal. No way. Dining out or ordering in can be an amazing way to try new cuisines, socialise, celebrate, relax, or simply relieve yourself of the task of cooking, and none of us here at Sweat would want a life without the joy that food can bring.
We also all have days or weeks during the year when we overeat or indulge in foods that don’t offer much nutritional value (but offer a huge hit of happiness), and this should NEVER be a source of guilt.
Eating out or ordering takeaways is not inherently unhealthy in itself, but as most of us know, portion sizes when we order out compared to when we cook at home are often quite different, as are the ingredients and balance of flavours.
These tips for healthy eating out options aren’t about choosing bland or low-calorie options, they’re simply about understanding ways to maximise the nutritional value of your meals to nourish your body and help you feel your best.
Sometimes, feeling your best will mean ordering something fresh and light, other days it might look like having a third helping of your mum’s famous dessert. Finding balance and enjoying all foods in moderation is part of leading your healthiest, happiest life, and something that the Sweat Trainers encourage.
It’s also important to recognise that choosing a “healthy option” (whether it’s you or someone you’re with) can be for many different reasons beyond weight loss or dieting, such as:
- Allergies or intolerances
- Fitness goals
- How food makes you feel
- Flavour preferences
Alright, let’s get into it!
Things to be mindful of
Dining out is such a joyful and delicious part of life that no one wants to miss out on, but there’s no denying that regularly consuming too many calories or foods high in fat, sugar, sodium or additives isn’t going to benefit your health.
According to a 2010 article published in Advances in Nutrition, numerous studies have investigated the differences in health and nutrient intake when people consume home-cooked meals compared to eating out and most have reported a relationship between dining out and higher consumption of calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium and reduced overall diet quality. These findings have also been supported by research from 2015.
Another 2014 study published in the American Journal of Public Health highlighted that because restaurants often serve high-calorie food and larger portion sizes, regularly dining out represents a risk factor for obesity and other diet-related chronic diseases.
Meanwhile, research from 2021 published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found frequent consumption of meals prepared away from home is significantly associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality.
Research like this doesn’t mean eating out is inherently “bad”, nor should it scare you into making every meal from scratch; it’s more about helping you understand the effect different food choices can have on your health and overall wellbeing. Eating out can be part of a healthy lifestyle, and the Sweat Trainers are a testament to that!
Healthy eating out options: 16 handy tips
- If you love eating takeaways or dining out but want to cut back, schedule days in your calendar when you’ll buy food to make it something special you can look forward to.
- Look at the menu online in advance if you want to check out your options when planning a meal out.
- Make sure you’re well hydrated before you eat, as it can be easy to overeat if you confuse your body’s thirst signals for hunger. Being hydrated will also support your digestion.
- Order something with fresh fruit or veggies to provide your body with fibre, vitamins and minerals.
- Include a good source of protein to fill you up and support any muscle growth and recovery if you’re leading an active lifestyle.
- Choose lean cuts of meat rather than processed meats like hot dogs, bacon or salami.
- Cooking methods have a big impact on how food makes you feel and its effect on your body. One 2014 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that frequent fried-food consumption was significantly associated with the risk of incident type 2 diabetes and moderately with incident coronary artery disease. If you want a healthier option, opt for dishes that are baked, steamed, poached, roasted, pan-fried, boiled or grilled rather than deep fried.
- If you’re trying to reduce your intake of deep-fried foods, order a side of veggies, salad or a baked potato instead of fries.
- Drink water or sugar-free beverages with your meal, or stick to 1-2 alcoholic beverages if you are going to drink. Your tomorrow self will thank you for it!
- To increase your intake of fibre and minerals, go for more nutritious whole grain options where possible such as brown rice and whole wheat bread.
- Try to view the menu in terms of what will nourish your body and make you feel great, instead of viewing foods as good or bad.
- Because portions are often bigger when eating out, take your time to eat mindfully and listen to your hunger cues. One 2005 review showed despite increases in portion size, people generally don’t respond to increased levels of fullness, suggesting that hunger and satiety signals are ignored or overridden. Several studies have demonstrated that eating low-energy-dense foods (such as fruits, vegetables and soups) is a great way to feel satisfied while reducing energy intake. And remember, you can always take any leftovers home with you!
- Out with a group of people for a meal but not feeling super hungry? You can always order appetisers instead of a main, order small or medium instead of large, or request an entree-sized main if there aren’t size options on the menu.
- Don’t be afraid to ask the restaurant for other options or ways to adjust your order. When many people now have allergies, food intolerances and other dietary requirements, most places are happy to accommodate with modifications or substitutions.
- It’s common for dressings and sauces to be lathered on (would you like a sandwich with that mayo?), so feel free to request any sauces to be served on the side.
- And finally, if there are limited nutritious options or you overeat, don’t beat yourself up. Focus on your lifestyle as a whole and what you do most of the time. If you experience food guilt, try to flip those feelings by expressing gratitude for your meal, who you ate with, or the joy of dining out - it’s a privilege not everybody has.
Healthy eating out options: Different cuisines
- Bakeries or sandwich bars: order fresh sandwiches and wraps, opt for whole grain options rather than deep fried foods or pastries, and load up on fresh veggies and salad toppings!
- Asian cuisines: order vegetable dishes and meals that are fresh, grilled or stir-fried. If you’re in the mood for a curry but want a lighter option, look for one that is dry or cooked with a broth or coconut milk rather than coconut or dairy cream.
- Italian: for a lighter pasta option, try one with a tomato-based sauce rather than cream based. Vegetarian pizzas are a great way to enjoy lots of veggies, or choose a pizza with leaner cuts of meat rather than salami, pepperoni or bacon.
- Mediterranean: order vegetable-based side dishes and fill kebabs or gyros (Kayla’s favourite) with lots of fresh salads and flavourful extras like tabbouleh. Hummus or tzatziki make great dressing options, as sauces like satay, mayo and sweet chilli can be high in sugar, fat and sodium. You can check out Kayla’s family tzatziki recipe here!
- Seafood: request your fish to be grilled or pan-fried instead of battered or deep-fried. Wanting to swap out your fries? Ask for a side salad or baked potato instead!
- Desserts: choose fruit-based desserts or enjoy a delicious fresh sorbet, yum! If you’re already feeling full from dinner but can’t pass up something sweet, ask a friend if they want to share!
Can dining out and ordering in be part of a healthy lifestyle? Absolutely! The last thing we would want is for your life to become drained of fun, flexibility and flavour in the name of being fit and healthy. Besides, what you do most of the time is going to have a far bigger impact on your wellbeing than what you do some of the time.
Keep these tips in your back pocket for days when you want to order something that will nourish your body and help you feel your best.
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.