How to make healthier choices when eating out
Tips for eating out in different situations
With so many opportunities to eat when you’re out and about, it’s great to know it’s 100 per cent possible to enjoy a meal and keep your health goals on track. All you need to know is how to navigate some common scenarios.
At the food court
Be practical: There’s usually a variety of cuisines on offer, so make a mental note ahead of time about which dishes are the healthier options. That way you’ll always have a few ‘go-to’ choices up your sleeve, regardless of what you’re in the mood for. As a guide, check out our ‘quick cuisine tips’ below.
Be tactical: You could also head online in the morning to research which stores you’ll find at the food court and decide then what you’ll eat. ‘Decision fatigue’, where having to make a constant stream of decisions impacts our ability to make a smart one, is much lower first thing in the morning than just before lunch, say researchers. Or, order from a store or outlet that displays the kilojoule content of its meals on the menu. Research shows that people tend to order meals that contain 15 per cent fewer kilojoules as a result of this type of labelling.
At a party
Be practical: The great thing about parties is that they’re not (usually!) impromptu occasions – which means you’ve got time to plan for them. By reserving your weekly Points and making meal choices that allow you to create a few rollovers in the days leading up to the party, you’ll have freedom to enjoy yourself at the function.
Another strategy? Search the buffet table for your ZeroPoint foods, such as fresh fruit and veggies, seafood and barbecued chicken breast.
Be tactical: Research shows the food you choose first influences what you take next – so one healthier choice means you’re likely to fill at least two-thirds of your plate with similarly healthy choices.
At the footy
Be practical: With a little planning, you can make and take your own food without missing out on the ‘footy food’ experience. For example, make your own meat pies and you could save Points and a bit of cash while you’re at it, compared to buying one at the ground. Pack them into an insulated bag to keep them warm. You could also make and take other ‘plate-free food’, such as sushi and sandwiches.
Be tactical: If you really want hot chips at the game, that’s fine. Research proves we tend to eat more when we’re distracted, so buy a small serve and make sure you track it. Research also shows how ‘distracted eating’ blurs your food memory, making it more likely you’ll eat more than you need at your next meal. Tracking is one way to counteract the effect.
At a friends
Be practical: You might not be able to choose what’s on the menu for dinner, but you can plan ahead by choosing ZeroPoint foods and recipes for breakfast, lunch and between-meal snacks. As well as helping you feel satisfied during the day, you can then use your daily Points to enjoy the meal your friend has prepared.
Be tactical: Try not to feel pressured to eat more than you want to, which begins with being aware of what some US food scientists call the ‘people-pleasing’ effect. Their research proved that people who strive for social harmony will eat more than planned purely to avoid rocking the boat or to make others feel comfortable. So before you accept a second helping, check in with your hunger signals – if you’re genuinely hungry and want to eat more, great! But if you’re only saying yes to make your host happy, don’t be afraid to politely decline.
At the movies
Be practical: The food on offer at the movies is more ‘snackable’ than ‘make a meal out of it’, so try to be organised so you don’t arrive with a ravenous hunger. Not only will you struggle to create a nutritious meal out of the foods most cinemas sell, research shows that being overly hungry can make less healthy foods seem even more attractive than usual, so we buy more of them.
Be tactical: Feel like you can’t watch a movie without popcorn, even though you’ve just eaten? You’re not alone: with repetition, the brain becomes primed to link a desire for a certain food with a particular environment, regardless of genuine hunger. You could bring your own supply of air-popped popcorn, but you should also feel free to enjoy the movie variety if you want it. To make it work, buy a small container and eat it with your less-dominant hand. Not only does it take significantly less of a food to satisfy your tastebuds than you might think, using your ‘other’ hand will make you more mindful of how much you’re eating, say researchers.
Quick cuisine tips
A little bit of ‘foodie’ knowledge about a few different cuisines can make light work of choosing what to eat. Here are a few things to bear in mind when you’re ordering.
Tandoori dishes are often a healthier choice because they’re grilled, not fried. Don’t gloss over the vegetarian dishes – they can often be a lower Points choice. And go as hot and spicy as you can: you’ll find it easier to stick to a healthy portion.
Try to opt for tomato or vegie-based pasta dishes (such as arrabiata, marinara and napoletana) rather than creamy or cheesy ones (such as carbonara, alfredo or boscaiola). Salads (with the dressing on the side) are also good, as they’re usually full of ZeroPoint foods.
Avoid foods described as ‘crispy’ – that usually means they’ve been deep-fried. Portion sizes also tend to be large, so consider sharing dishes, and make the effort to eat with chopsticks – research proves that slows down your pace of eating.
A few different ZeroPoint foods – think seafood and edamame – are staples of this cuisine. But it pays to be mindful of how different preparation techniques can alter the Points value.
Appetisers such as fish cakes, spring rolls and moneybags are typically fried and higher in Points. For main, choose stir-fried dishes (ask the restaurant to use minimal oil, if possible) rather than creamy, coconut milk-based curries.