One of the biggest struggles I've had when losing weight is trying to eat out without it affecting my diet. I would previously pick the juiciest (veggie) burger, greasiest pizza or most carb ridden choice of pasta with an obligatory side of fries when I went out, thinking it was a treat, but for someone who usually eats out at least twice a week I really had to be start being more careful.
Eating out and having free reign over the menu is great for a treat or a hard-earned cheat day, but a casual lunch date with your friends doesn't have to ruin the hard work you've put in at the gym that morning, and similarly your hard efforts at the gym shouldn't mean harming your social life by cancelling lunch dates.
I'm still working on this myself, but I'm getting better and I've recently learned that restaurant salads, whilst sounding boring, are usually THE BOMB. Seriously, so good. Here are my tips on eating healthy whist dining out:
WHAT TO EAT?
When it comes to eating out, it really is a test on your willpower. The 2 course lunch menu might only be £9.95, but if you were at home would you ever dream of cooking yourself a two course lunch? Probably not. Most restaurants also have a tempting selection of sides to choose from but unless your friends are going to be sharing, then your main meal will probably be enough - if you can even manage to finish that! If you're like me and can eat and eat and eat, it's important to pay attention to how you're feeling - yes, you're full and no, you don't need to clear the plate even though there's only a small amount left!
Personally I find the biggest challenge of eating out to be that my eyes are bigger than my belly. Everything must have a side of fries, and what's that... jalepeno dippers? I'll have those too. And then my meal arrives, with the sides and I eat until my clothes feel like they're about to burst, and usually waste half of the food anyway. I've become quite good at choosing the healthy options from the menu (and I really don't miss the fries), so here are some of my recommendations for what to choose and what to avoid.
VEGETARIANS - Before I started eating fish, it would drive me crazy that most restaurants would give vegetarians the choice of pasta (and I'll bet it will be something outrageous like four cheese macaroni!), pizza or wraps/fajitas.
My usual choice would be some sort of vegetable wraps (watch out for ones heavily laden with cheese), exchanging the fries for a crisp side salad which might not be offered on the menu but is never a problem in any restaurant I've visited. If you're trying to restrict your carbs or really keep the calories low then eating the contents of the wrap and leaving the wrap itself works well.
FISH LOVERS - Scanning the menu for Salmon is now the first thing I do when I get to a restaurant. Usually served with potatoes and vegetables salmon is an excellent healthy choice, which still feels like a treat.
When dining out I usually find that fish dishes are amongst the healthiest on the menu, usually giving a good balance of protein and carbs whilst being low fat. Watch out for creamy/cheesy sauces, and obviously steer clear of fish and chips no matter how good that beer batter might sound! Fish is usually a winner for me.
CARNIVORES - Not eating meat, I'm maybe not the best person to be making recommendations for meat dishes as I don't even give as much of a glance towards that section of the menu. My healthy friends usually opt for a steak with steamed vegetables, or a big hunk of chicken, trying to avoid creamy sauces and things fried in batter.
WHERE TO GO?
I usually eat out at chain restaurants, dropping in for a quick lunch and a catch up with friends. Whilst you'll find the menus in a lot of chains are very burger-heavy, there are some with brilliant lighter choices.
PIZZA EXPRESS - Top of my list is Pizza Express, with their Legerra menu (I reviewed it here) which features pizzas each coming in at under 500 calories and delicious salads for under 300. Maybe not the best source of protein but with plenty of greenery on their pizzas and some healthy topping choices Pizza Express gives the perfect 'feels bad but actually isn't' choice for dining out.
NANDOS - For meat eaters, Nandos is a great restaurant to load up on protein with all that chicken - just be sure to stay clear of carb and calorie laden burgers and wraps in favour of pita or simply meat on the bone, and to always eat your vegetables. Macho peas are awesome! Nandos do a pretty special range of salads too, although you might want to ask them to go easy on the dressings from experience!
PREZZO - Whether I'm being healthy or having a cheat day, Prezzo is one of my favourite chains to visit! Again, with it's own range of light flatbread pizzas ranging between 400-600 calories it's easy not to go overboard. Pastas are available as a light option too, being served up as a small portion with a bowl of salad on the side. Their Salmon Niciose (pictured above) is a favourite of mine!
Obviously eating out is not as good as a home cooked meal (pizza is still pizza at the end of the day) so I do like to visit smaller, lesser known local restaurants, quite often vegetarian or vegan places. Stereo in Glasgow is a favourite of mine, with healthy tapas choices, homemade soups, houmus and salads to die for.
PLAN AROUND DINING OUT
With all that being said, sometimes there won't be an ideal healthy choice that fits in your macros and doesn't come close to the fine line between acceptable and cheat meal so it's important to plan around dining out.
If you're heading out for lunch then have a light breakfast and dinner that day. Often for bigger, more elaborate meals (three course dinners with limited set menus and drinks, I'm looking at you!) I'll be extra good during the rest of the week, keeping my meals as clean and healthy as possible to make up for that indulgent meal. I also have a little rule that I try to stick to where I don't get to go to a restaurant unless I've been to the gym that day, just for extra measure!
What are your top tips for eating out without wrecking your diet?