Eating out – what’s best to choose when keeping weight off?

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It is possible to manage your weight, or even diet, and eat out. However you need to think carefully about how often you can eat out and make good decisions about what you order. Generally, food in restaurants will be more calorific than food you make at home. So as well as choosing the least fatty / sugary food dont be afraid to ask for your food to be as you want. For example, always ask for sauces or dressings on the side (or even without sauce) so you decide how much you have. Ask for vegetables to come without a coating of butter or oil. Or even ask for certain ingredients to be taken out – for example I often order dishes without cheese.

If you are going to eat out, here’s some suggestions about what to order:

Cuisine       What to choose     What to avoid
All restaurants
  • Salads as starters – but always with the dressing on the side.
  • Soup for starters – so long as it doesn’t have cream/cheese in and try to opt for vegetable soups.
  • Ask for vegetables without butter or oil.
  • Dishes that are steamed, grilled, boiled, baked, braised, au jus.
  • Deep fried foods and other dishes that are fried or sautéed.
  • Cheese based dishes.
  • Vegetables smothered in butter.
  • Any dish that has the words cream or butter as part of its name or description.
  • Choose steamed and baked food such as steamed mussels.
  • Always ask for sauces on the side and choose wine or veg based sauce.
  • Select salads and ask for the vinaigrette on the side.
  • If you need something on the side select unbuttered French bread.
  • Cream, butter and cheese rich dishes and sauces which are used very liberally in French cooking.
  • Avoid pommes frites, sautéed potatoes or croquettes.
  • Avoid French pastries such as croissants.
Burger joint
  • Choose very lean burgers which are pure meat and ask how they are cooked. Ask for them to be grilled and for the dressings and sauces to be on the side.
  • Have with a salad or baked potato rather than chips/fries. If you do have fries go for wedges or baked.
  • Cheap burgers or burgers made from non lean meat.
  • Fast food burger joints
  • Deep fried burgers.
  • Fries / chips.
  • Calorific dressings such as full fat mayonnaise, tomato sauce, relish full of sugar etc.
  • Choose dishes that have boiled rice and salad rather than fried dishes.
  • Choose dishes with stacks of vegetables, very lean meat and non fried beans. Just make sure that they are not deep fried (ask for meat to be grilled) or ask for them to use less oil.
  • Guacamole is great food.
  • Choose fajitas and enchiladas with tomatoes based salsa – just check oil and cheese.
  • Many Mexican meals can be fried in huge amounts of oil and smothered in cheese. Always ask to avoid these foods.
  • Avoid all dishes with sour cream such as nachos with sour cream and cheese.
  • Ask if beans are re-fried as these may have huge amounts of oil in.
  • Choose clear or vegetable soups such as Tom Yam or Tom Jeud Wonsen.
  • Much Thai food is wok fried and so is fresh and made with little oil. Ask for extra veg and for peanuts on the side.
  • Thai salads are spiced by chilli but ask them to go easy on sugar in the dressing.
  • Choose steamed rice.
  • Avoid dishes with coconut milk in. This includes most Thai curries (yellow/karee which is the most calorific, and green and red), Thai food described as ‘creamy’ will be full of coconut milk.
  • Sticky rice is high GI so chose other rice if available.
  • Avoid fried rice.
  • Deep fried foods such as spring rolls or fried puddings.
  • Chinese food can actually be very low fat and nutritious. Choose stir fried, steamed or braised dishes.
  • If you want a starter choose a soup.
  • Choose dishes with lots of vegetables.
  • Boiled rice.
  • Have a fortune cookie for pudding.
  • Avoid Chinese starters and sides which tend to be full of oil and are very calorific – Prawn crackers, Wonton and spring rolls, deep fried seaweed etc.
  • Crispy Duck.
  • Fried rice.
  • Other fried dishes.
  • Fried ‘sticky’ or sweet and sour dishes.
  • Fritters for pudding.
  • Check for levels of MSG.
Curry / Indian
  • Chose restaurants that cook in oil rather than ghee. Select any dishes marked as lower fat on the menu.
  • For starters chose salads or meat/fish dishes which are grilled and ask for them to be grilled without any additional oil.
  • Select curries with prawn, chicken and vegetables.
  • Select foods which are cooked in Indian ovens or are dry. This includes tandoori, tikka and bhuna dishes.
  • Choose plain rice or chapattis.
  • Avoid bhajis, pakoras, samosas and poppadums as they are deep fried.
  • Watch sugar content in pickles, chutneys and yoghurt sauces
  • Avoid creamy sauces including Masala sauce, Passanda and Korma.
  • Avoid pilau rice as it is fried.
  • Avoid nan bread which is smothered in ghee.
  • Pasta is a low GI food, especially when cooked slightly ‘al-dente’. Good Italian places will do this anyway but you can always ask. Choose vegetable based sauces or sauces with sea food – for example Napolitano, Arrabiata  and Marinara sauces.
  • If choosing pizza ask for low fat or a smaller amount of cheese. Ask for loads of veg on the pizza and ask that they don’t drizzle extra oil on.
  • Choose thin pizza bases and select traditional Italian pizzas which are cooked direct on the oven rather than in a tin.
  • Garlic bread.
  • Bruschetta which is covered in olive oil.
  • Anti pasto which is marinated in oil.
  • Cheese/cream based sauces such as carbonara.
  • Pizzas with fatty meats such as pepperoni and extra cheese.
  • Deep pan pizzas and other oily pizza bases.
  • Pizzas which have extra cheese and or garlic oil on the crust.
Gastro pub
  • Choose salad to start with dressings on the side.
  • Always ask how dishes are cooked to make sure that they are not deep fried.
  • Ask for lean steaks, fish and meat which is grilled, baked or steamed.
  • Choose fruit based puddings without the cream.
  • Many dishes will be deep fried. Avoid all these.
  • Avoid garlic bread and other sides which are fried and full of fat / cheese.
  • Avoid stodgy traditional British puddings. If you do have them ask for the cream / ice cream on the side.
Fish and chips
  • Try to eat the fish without the batter.
  • Choose small or children’s portion sizes.
  • Share chips with someone else.
  • Rock has more calories than cod or haddock.
  • Scraps.
  • Do not choose extra size portions.
The coffee shop
  • Choose drinks with skimmed (or skinny) milk
  • Fruit
  • Latte
  • All flavour syrups
  • Pretty much all cakes and pastries (even healthy looking ones)