Article as appeared on eve.com.mt on 19th September 2014
Enjoying a meal away from home can be a healthy experience if one avoids a few culinary pitfalls and selects items off the menu wisely.
Beware of Portion Distortion
One of the major reasons why eating out often leaves a mark on our waistline is the generous portions we are presented with. Plates used in restaurants are often larger than the ones we use at home and the amount of food placed on them may even be double that found in a home-cooked meal. If available, opt for a starter or smaller portion and do not feel obliged to wipe the plate clean. You can put aside part of your dish and plan to eat only that. Other strategies to deal with large portions include sharing your meal with a friend or asking for a doggie bag.
Limit the Courses
Whenever possible, choose one main meal and avoid nibbles, starters, bread and dips before your meal, as these are often calorie-dense and contribute significantly to the total amount of calories consumed.
Choose the Cooking Method
Steer clear of fried or breaded food and opt for steamed, boiled or baked options. Reduce the fat content when eating meat products by choosing leaner cuts, such as fillet, sirloin, or breast when choosing poultry, and avoiding meats that still have the skin on. Leaner types of meat include fish, poultry and rabbit, while products containing higher amounts of saturated fats, and hence calories, are red meat and full-fat dairy products. Offal, eggs and shellfish, on the other hand are high in cholesterol.
Opt for Whole Grain
If whole grain options are available, choose them. Fibre is not only beneficial to your digestive and circulatory systems, it also helps you feel full earlier and curbs your appetite longer than refined grain options. Whole grains may be in the form of bread, wraps, pasta or rice, among others.
Ditch the Hidden Calories
Sauces, dressings, creams and oils are laden with calories and can easily add on 500 or more calories to your meal. Keep in mind that one tablespoon of oil or mayonnaise contains around 100 calories. Stay away from food containing cream and opt for vegetable-based sauces. When ordering a salad as part of your meal, ask for the dressing or oil to be left out from the preparation and to be brought to you in a separate container. That way you can add a small amount to your meal.
Go for Veggies
When vegetables are on the menu, do not shy away from them. Vegetables may be included as salads, soups, vegetable-based sauces for pasta dishes or vegetarian pizza toppings. Vegetables are lower in calories than meat or grains and help you feel fuller for longer. Pulses and beans are an excellent protein source and a low calorie, high fibre substitute for meat.
Drinks are Important Too
It is useless to watch what you eat when you are guzzling down litres of sugary drinks, alcohol or fruit juices. Try and stick to water and remember that, while a glass of red wine is good for you, alcohol consumption should be limited as it is packed with extra calories.
The Dessert Dilemma
After your meal, the lure of dessert is easy to succumb to. Ask yourself if you are really still hungry and consider postponing that sweet something to later on during the day as a snack. If skipping dessert is not an option, go for healthier choices, such as fruit, smaller bite-sized portions or sharing dessert with someone else.
Arrive Early and Enjoy!
Do not postpone eating to when you are starving. When we are hungry, we tend to gravitate towards sugary, calorie-packed foods and consume more nibbles than we would normally do. Arrive at the restaurant or pick up your food 30 minutes before your regular meal time so as to avoid irrational food decisions. Finally, and most importantly, enjoy your food, your company and your surroundings. Eat slowly and savour each and every morsel. This will help you reach satiation earlier and render your dining experience a memorable and healthy one.