How to be menu wise
Whether it’s for convenience or a treat, putting up the ‘kitchen closed’ sign at home doesn't have to mean all your healthy eating plans go out the window.
You’re going out to eat. Hurrah! No cooking, no washing up, plenty of choice and, presumably, fun to be had with friends or family. But if you’re anything like me (and for your sake, I really hope you’re not), you’ll have made the following mistake too many times to have it described as a ‘rookie error’. You skimp on breakfast, merely sniff at lunch and pass on afternoon tea because you’re ‘saving yourself for tonight’. By the time you reach the restaurant, you’re ready to eat your own arm, let alone inhale the bread basket and order fries with everything, including dessert, thank you very much. So what’s the alternative? How can you eat out without undoing all your hard work? Our experts have come up with their top tips, tricks and ideas so you can still have your cake and eat it.
1. Plan your strategy
Research shows 80 per cent of us eat out at least once a month. Are you eating out for convenience or a special occasion? If you need to grab something with the kids after soccer or it’s a work lunch, it’s for convenience, which means you can stick to the same SmartPoints® Budget as at home. If it’s a special occasion, you might want to plan ahead so you can enjoy yourself. “Looking at the menu and tracking the meal ahead of time means you’re more likely to stick to your plan when you get to the restaurant,” says Nicole Stride, Dietitian and WW Program Developer. Use your ZeroPoint™ foods to plan ahead. If you want to order your favourite pasta or steak dish, stick to foods with lower SmartPoints values earlier in the day.
2. Ask to share
Sharing means you get to taste a little of what you fancy without going overboard. “If you’ve gone easy with your main, you can probably share a dessert, so ask for one portion and two spoons,” says dietitian Julie Gilbert.
3. Snack and stay hydrated
Take the edge off your hunger before you go out with a small snack such as a small handful of nuts and some raw vegie sticks. Then you won’t feel ravenous when you get to the restaurant and potentially sabotage yourself. Staying hydrated can help, too, says Leigh Sherry, accredited exercise physiologist and director of SmartLife Health. “I always make sure I have plenty of water with my meals, too,” she says. Research backs this up, with a US study finding those who drank a large glass of water before meals lost more weight than those who didn't.
4. Order first
You might start out with good intentions, but by the time everyone around you has ordered, the devil of fried food and creamy desserts that are sitting on your shoulder may have got the better of you. “It’s all too easy to be swayed by what other people are doing,” says GP Dr David Ross-Smith. So stay on the safe side by ordering first. And then block your ears.
5. Know the menu
Whether you’re in charge of the restaurant choice or not, log on to the website before you go to check out what’s on offer. “Any research you do is going to give you a head start on making healthy choices,” says Dr Ross-Smith. “It’s far better to do some homework than deciding when you’re hungry and under pressure to place your order.” Find the ZeroPoint foods (such as fish or baked chicken breast) and build a tasty and nutritious meal from there.
6. Eat a rainbow of coloured food
It’s a good rule of thumb to order what you know are going to be colourful dishes, says accredited practising dietitian Maria Packard. “You’ll usually find that means they contain more vegetables, which will fill you up and contain valuable nutrients. If half your plate is made up of vegies, you’re doing well.”
7. Opt for small version
Opt for an entree or, if there’s nothing you fancy, ask for a smaller-sized version of the main you like the look of,” says Gilbert. “That way you won’t overeat, because restaurant portions can be enormous and once it’s in front of you, it can be hard to stop picking.”
8. Ask questions
“Find out how the dish you want is cooked,” says Dr Ross-Smith. “Ask as many questions as you need to determine whether it’s the healthiest choice for you.”
9. Change your mindset
Try to think differently about eating out. When you go out for a meal, instead of thinking about the food on the menu, focus on the people you’re catching up with the laughs, the fun, the company and the love. Fill up on the occasion, not the food.
10. Just say no
Stopping the bread basket in its tracks, saying no to fries and requesting sauces come on the side – or not at all – are all good ways to make sure you stay on track, says Packard. “If it’s not there, you can’t be tempted by it. Fill up on salads and steamed vegies so you feel satisfied without the fat content.”
11. Use your weekly SmartPoints and your rollover Points
They give you more flexibility. Try to track the best you can – estimating is A-OK! (Tracking before you go helps you stick to your Budget.)
12. Understand the menu lingo
Smothered, rich, au gratin, glazed and creamy usually indicate higher SmartPoints values. Flame-grilled, poached, smoked, baked and grilled tend to be lower in SmartPoints values.
How to decode a menu
- Alfredo - Loads of cheese and butter.
- Au Gratin - Buttery breadcrumb crust.
- Battered - Dunked in batter + fried = SmartPoints blown.
- Béarnaise - Smothered in a clarified butter and egg yolk sauce.
- Breaded - Covered in breadcrumbs and fried.
- Buttery - Butter, butter and more butter.
- Crunchy or crispy - Just another way of saying ‘fried’.
- Hollandaise - Butter, butter, butter.
- Pan-fried - Another way of saying ‘fried’.
- Rich - Butter and cream.
- Tempura - Deep-fried Japanese style.
13. Don’t be shy about special requests
Ask to swap chips for a salad with your main course or vegetables with balsamic vinegar instead of in butter. (Unless, of course, you want them – in which case, track and enjoy!)
14. Don’t feel the need to eat everything on the plate
There’s no prize for finishing your food. Stop when you’re satisfied, not when you’re stuffed (ask for a container for leftovers). Put your napkin on your plate to signal you’re finished.
15. Watch out for salads
Creamy dressings, croutons, bacon, avocado, nuts, and seeds are flavoursome but high in SmartPoints; a little goes a long way. Ask for them on the side so you can add as little or as much as you want.
Remember to enjoy yourself, that’s most important! If you want it, and it’s worth it to you, get it and love every bite! And if you go over, it’s OK. It’s what you do next that matters most.