Healthy eating out

If you’re eating out at a restaurant or cafe, you can make choices to ensure that your meal is healthy and balanced.

It’s all too easy to have more saturated fat, salt and sugar than you realise when you’re not cooking your own meal.

You can also end up eating more than you would have done if you’d served up your own portions.

We often indulge in sugary and high-fat foods when it’s a special occasion. But many of us are eating out more often, and this means that it’s important to think about healthier choices.

The first tip to remember is that whatever and wherever you’re eating, you don’t need to clear your plate. Instead, eat slowly and stop when you are full.

Restaurants and cafes

Simple steps can help you to make sure that you make healthier choices when eating out.

Food swaps
These swaps can make your restaurant or cafe meal healthier. Swap:

  • pies, bacon and sausages for chicken without the skin, or lean meats such as ham, fish (not fried) or pulses
  • pastries, muffins and croissants for scones, bagels and currant buns
  • sauces based on cream and cheese for tomato and vegetable sauces
  • fried rice such as pilau rice and egg fried rice for rice that is steamed or boiled
  • chips or creamy mashed potatoes for potatoes that are baked or boiled
  • cakes, chocolate or creamy puddings, biscuits, sweets and ice cream for fruit salads, sorbets and low-fat yoghurts
  • vegetables and salads served with butter, oily dressings or mayonnaise for vegetables served plain
  • ask for salad dressing on the side so you can add only as much as you need

Eating out tips
These tips can help you make healthier choices when you’re eating at a restaurant or cafe.

Look out for dishes highlighted on the menu as healthier options. If you’re not sure why the dish is healthier, don’t be afraid to ask.

Some menus have sections in which the dishes are calorie counted. Choosing these will help you to keep track of the number of calories you are eating.Women need around 2,000 calories a day, and men need around 2,500. Children need fewer. For more information read Understanding calories.

Remember, if you can’t tell from the menu how a dish is cooked then you can always ask

  • Ask for salt not to be added to your meal during cooking or preparation.
  • Say no to bread or other nibbles before your meal arrives. Eating these before your meal can make you more likely to eat too much.
  • When you’re ordering a variety of dishes to share, make sure you don’t order too many. Ask the staff how many dishes they would recommend.
  • If your meal doesn’t come with vegetables, order some as a side dish or have a salad with your meal. This can be instead of a starter.
  • Wait until you’ve eaten your main course before you order a pudding. When you’ve finished the main course, you may be full.
  • Have a glass of fruit juice or water with your meal.

Healthier puddings
If you’d like something sweet, there are healthier options.

Fruit is an especially good choice and can count towards your recommended five daily portions of fruit and vegetables. Learn more in 5 A DAY.

Fruit that is baked into puddings such as rhubarb crumble also counts towards your five fruit and veg portions. For a healthier pudding, choose fruit-based puddings instead of puddings with cream or chocolate fillings.

Cream and ice cream are both high in saturated fat. Instead of having a dessert with cream or ice cream, ask staff if you can have a sorbet, low-fat yoghurt, fruit purée, or custard made with lower-fat milk.

Healthy lunch

Many of us eat lunch on the go, whether it’s from a sandwich shop, cafe, supermarket or the work canteen.

The right choices can ensure your lunch is healthier.
Remember, if you make your own lunch, you know exactly what’s in your lunchbox and you can save money.

Lunch salads
Salad can make for a healthy, filling and tasty lunch on the go. If you make them at home you’ll be saving money too.

Salads that contain some starchy foods such as rice, pasta, potatoes or couscous are more filling.

Add grilled chicken (without the skin), prawns, sardines, cottage cheese, mozzarella or strips of lean ham for protein options lower in saturated fat.

Then choose a variety of veg: you could add roasted peppers and courgettes, avocado, spring onions, salad leaves, tomatoes, radishes, grated carrot or green beans.

Watch out for salads that contain a lot of mayonnaise or other high-fat dressings. This often includes coleslaw, potato salads and some pasta salads.

Pre-packed salads often have a nutrition information panel on the label so you can check how much total fat, saturated fat and salt they contain. Go for salads that are lower in fat, especially saturated fat and salt (or sodium). Learn more in Food labels.

Lunch sandwiches
Whether you’re making your own sandwiches or buying them from a shop or staff canteen, here are tips to help you make healthier choices:

  • Choose brown or wholemeal bread.
  • When buying pre-packed sandwiches, look at the nutrition information. Choose a sandwich that is low in fat: 3g or less per 100g, and 1.5g saturated fat per 100g. Watch out for the salt content too: food is high in salt if it contains more than 1.5g salt per 100g.
  • Have your sandwich without butter, spread or mayonnaise, especially if the filling is moist. Or have a small amount and go for low-fat mayonnaise.
  • Go for a sandwich with salad in it. Ask for extra if the sandwich is being made for you in the shop or cafe.
  • Choose healthier sandwich fillings such as lean meats (ham, beef, turkey and chicken without the skin), tuna, smoked mackerel and hard-boiled egg.
  • If you want cheese, go for edam, emmental, gruyère, mozzarella and low-fat cream cheese. They are usually lower in fat than other cheeses.

Hot food
If you prefer hot food for lunch, you can still make healthier choices:

  • Baked potatoes are a good lunchtime choice, but cut out the butter or use low-fat spread. Healthy fillings include baked beans, cottage cheese and ratatouille. Avoid ready-mixed fillings that contain lots of mayonnaise as these can be high in fat.
  • Pasta can be a healthy choice, but avoid dishes with a creamy or cheesy sauce, or mixed with lots of oil, because these can be high in fat. Tomato or vegetable-based sauces are a healthier choice and will count towards your recommended five daily portions of fruit and veg. Avoid adding cheese, or add only a little.
  • Soups can also help count towards your five portions if they contain vegetables. Try a soup with chunky vegetables, and to make it a filling meal add a wholemeal bread roll.
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