Ever struggled to decide what to have at a restaurant? We asked the experts what they order from the menu to show you that eating out doesn’t have to spell the end of your healthy diet
Going to a restaurant can feel like a minefield when it comes to choosing the best option, but it doesn’t have to be this way. “There’s no reason why eating out can’t be healthy and fulfilling,” says nutritionist Antonia Magor (antoniamagor.com). “Sharing food is at the centre of most of our celebrations and there is something very special about enjoying a meal together. When you’re eating out and want to try making healthier choices there are some simple swaps you can do, such as adding an extra portion of vegetables on the side, opting for starter-sized portions if you don’t feel hungry and not adding extra salt. Don’t be afraid to ask for something to be left out of your meal or to swap it for a healthier option. It’s also important though that you enjoy your food! You’re more likely to feel satisfied if you have a little of what you want, so find the balance that works for you.” With this in mind, here are the nutritionist approved options from six popular types of food outlets so you can order and enjoy your meal without the worry. Bon appétit!
What to order at an Italian restaurant
Who can resist a cheese-topped pizza, or a satisfying spaghetti bolognese? But Italian food doesn’t necessarily have to mean too many calories. “Antipasti dishes include plenty of healthy choices – particularly minestrone soup, which is packed full of vegetables and is filling,” explains Shona Wilkinson, nutritionist at Nature’s Best (naturesbest.co.uk). “If you are opting for a pizza, choose chicken and vegetables to get protein and nutrients into your meal, and ask for a thin base. Most places do a light version, which has the middle replaced with salad. And if you choose pasta, go for a tomato-based sauce rather than a creamy one,” she continues. Of course, these aren’t the only offerings – “I love Italian restaurants that serve authentic Mediterranean food which can be really healthy and tasty,” says nutritionist Lily Soutter (lilysoutternutrition.com). “I usually go for grilled fish with fresh vegetables and new potatoes with a drizzle of olive oil.”
What to order at a Chinese restaurant
“As a starter, choose won ton soup,” says Shona. “This delicious and light dish is usually a consommé filled with chicken and vegetables, although the recipe can vary.” For the main course, Lily recommends beef or chicken with broccoli and brown rice, broths, or steamed (not deep fried) dumplings, as they tend to be lower in fat, calories and sugar than other choices. Shona opts for the Buddha’s delight as her main course – “this dish has plenty of steamed tofu and is served with a variety of vegetables,” she explains. “This makes it high in protein, fibre and nutrients, and you can add some chicken if you’re feeling hungry.” Antonia advises ordering extra portions of vegetables and asking for any sauces on the side so you can control how much goes on. And don’t forget that fortune cookie – “it’s only 30 calories and is great fun!” Shona says.
What to order at a Thai restaurant
“While authentic Thai food can be extremely nourishing, some sauces and dips can be high in sugar and there can also be an abundance of white refined rice which often comes with the curries and pad Thai,” Lily warns. “If you’re focusing on your health, try choosing whole grain rice and be aware of not overdoing the sauces.” Shona suggests starting with a yum ma-muang, which is a green mango salad usually served with carrots and fresh lime juice. “A good main course option could be fai pad med manuang (chicken with cashew nuts) and pad pak (fried vegetables),” she continues. “Although frying the vegetables isn’t ideal, you’re being careful with the rest of the meal so you can afford to enjoy yourself! The cashew nuts are a great source of protein and the dish usually comes with nutrient-rich baby corn and heart-healthy onion.” Antonia recommends choosing summer rolls over deep fried spring rolls and ordering light noodle broths, vegetarian curries or steamed fish dishes, such as lemongrass fish with vegetables.
What to order at a coffee shop
Popping to a coffee shop for a quick bite is convenient when you’re out and about, but it can be hard to avoid the tempting treats on offer. “Instead of going for a stodgy cake, have a look to see if they have anything healthier,” Shona advises. “Avoid pastries, as these are high in fat and don’t offer any positive nutritional benefits. Look for a smoked salmon bagel as a better option, or berries with Greek yoghurt and a bag of nuts and seeds.” Lots of coffee shops offer fresh fruit, so Antonia recommends opting for that over other indulgences. She also suggests choosing tea (particularly green) rather than coffee, and ordering porridge or a biscotti. “If you really want a sweet treat, this can satisfy your cravings while being a smaller portion and having less sugar than some of the cakes and biscuits,” she explains.
What to order at an Indian restaurant
“For a starter, choose a single poppadum and raita (a light and refreshing cucumber dip) – and remember to stick to just one, as it’s easy to carry on eating these without stopping!” Shona advises. There are lots of creamy options on the menu for the main course, but as Lily explains, these are the ones with the most calories, fat and salt. “The best option for those watching their waistline would be the chicken shashlik, which consists of grilled chicken pieces with peppers and tomatoes – although my favourite dish is the lamb passanda, which is not the healthiest dish, but there’s nothing wrong with choosing what you love once in a while,” she says. Tandoori style, meaning that it’s been oven-grilled, rather than fried, is also a good choice. “Have a small portion of plain boiled rice and a green salad with it, and add lots of spices to your dish for added health benefits and flavour,” suggests Shona. And what about side dishes? “Choose roti over naan bread, as it’s made with wholewheat flour, and pick saag (Indian spinach), because although it’s usually creamy, you’re getting the benefits of the nutrient-rich vegetable,” says Antonia.
What to order at a pub
The pub is a traditional British institute, but what should you order when you're there? “I rarely crave pub classics such as fish and chips or steak, however sometimes a good quality beef burger with sweet potato fries is just what I need,” says Lily. “I find that pubs also serve really tasty substantial and filling salads. I often go for a chicken salad with grains and lots of vegetables, and the portion sizes tend to be decent, so you're rarely left feeling hungry,” she adds. If you would like a steak, ask for a grilled fillet with a side salad. “The protein from the meat will satisfy you and keep you feeling fuller for longer,” Shona explains. Fancy fish instead? “Make sure it's an oily type, such as mackerel, sardines anchovies, tuna or salmon,” she advises.