How to keep up your healthy eating habits when eating out.
Kiwis have a lot more eating out options than in the past. Especially considering non- restaurant eating out options such as cafés and fast-food chains. But often, eating out means compromising on health. We don’t think it needs to be this way.
There are often hidden traps in restaurant food. Chefs — as we know from watching TV cooking shows — don’t cook the same way we do at home. They are not there to make sure we get our five plus a day or that we don’t overdo it on saturated fat. Chefs have to make food that sells, and that means food which appeals to a wide variety of palates.
Often the standard way to do this is to throw fat and salt at the food. And so we get puréed potatoes and scrambled eggs enriched with equal quantities of cream, sauces finished with generous dobs of butter, deep-fried hash browns, falafels and koftas, heavily creamed soups and pasta. Dishes that are healthy when cooked at home, can easily become a nutritional nightmare when eaten out.
It can also be difficult getting enough vegetables in a lot of restaurants. The vegetables in fine dining restaurants are more likely to be reduced to a colourful purée drizzled around the edge of the plate, or balanced prettily above the meat or fish in garnish-sized portions. They may look and taste amazing, but if you’re after your couple of handfuls of veges for dinner, you will need to check out the small print on the menu for the side dishes.
Our challenge to chefs!
Eating out is a pleasure and a treat, and choosing food just because it’s healthy on a special occasion is a sure-fire way to kill the fun! But eating out in more casual ways is an almost everyday experience for many of us. So we think it would be wonderful to see more chefs giving health more than a passing thought.
Many chefs now are very interested in the provenance and seasonality of their food — in how it was grown and raised and where it comes from. It is only a small step from there to thinking about the good the food might do the eater.
How to order healthily
- Don’t be afraid to ask the serving staff some questions about the menu if it’s not clear. Any good café or restaurant will want you to enjoy your meal and hopefully return.
- Be on the lookout for these terms as they all signal that the dish is probably loaded with extra fat: bearnaise, beurre blanc, creamy, crispy, crumbed, confit, fried, fritter, gratinee, hollandaise, parmigiana, pastry.
- If the dish you are thinking of ordering comes with a sauce, check if it is creamy. Even tomato sauces are sometimes ‘finished’ with cream. A 50ml dash of cream (less than 1/4 cup) adds an extra five teaspoons of fat to the sauce.
- Order plain bread with the butter or preferably olive oil served separately. Garlic, herb or pizza bread has the fat already added.
- At Asian restaurants, stir-fried dishes with extra vegetables are great. Check if the curry is made with coconut cream, which has lots of saturated fat. With sweet and sour dishes, the meat may be pre-battered and fried which adds extra fat.
- If you love dessert, choose an entrée as a main with a side serve of salad or vegetables.
Menu-speak: Cooking methods
Food is cooked on or under a hot grill plate. A cooking method that involves minimal fat. A healthy choice.
Food is simmered gently in liquid; often water, wine or stock. A healthy choice.
Food is cooked in fat (oil or butter) in a hot pan. Can be a healthy choice but you will need to check – if it is cooked in butter, you’ll be getting more saturated fat than you may want. Ask if it can be cooked in minimal oil instead.
Another word for fried.
Food is coated in crumbs and fried or deep-fried. Pan-fried is an OK choice.
Baked or roasted
Food is cooked in the oven, usually with a small amount of fat. If you’re concerned about fat content, ask how the dish has been roasted: are the items tossed in oil before roasting, or dry-roasted? If minimal fat is used, this can be a healthy choice.
Food is coated in batter and usually deep-fried. This should ring alarm bells; you may want to make another choice.
Food is often puréed and often has butter and cream added. Ask what’s been added.