Poring over a restaurant menu to find a dish you can eat without blowing your daily calorie limit can seem impossible.
Few restaurants list the calorie content for good reason – a lot of restaurant food is high in fat and calories.
Luckily there are plenty of choices for anyone watching their waistline, you just need to know how to recognise the healthy options.
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Best healthy choices at a British carvery or pub
Opt for roast meat but remove the skin which is fatty, or even better, grilled fish, and ask for boiled potatoes rather than fries.
Nothing quite beats a pub lunch on a warm afternoon and the good news is that with some considered choices you can enjoy it without worrying about your waistline.
The first thing to do is to sink a pint before you start – a pint of water, that is (flavoured with a cordial if you prefer). Not only will that prevent you from becoming dehydrated or from drinking alcohol too quickly to quench your thirst, it’ll also help create a feeling of fullness before you start eating.
On the menu, opt for roast meat but remove the skin which is fatty, or even better, grilled fish, and ask for boiled potatoes rather than fries. Watch out for sides such as stuffing, garlic bread or onion rings as these won’t fill you up but will dramatically up your calorie intake.
It is also important to consider portion control. Eating out is often a time when we might be drinking and distracted by the nice social situation, so we ignore the signals that are telling us when we are full.
Dining at home? Find classic British recipes
Best healthy choices at an Indian restaurant
Steer clear of those creamy dishes – such as korma, passanda, tikka massala. And opt for boiled rice instead of fried.
Delicious aromatic spices wafting from other tables can send your taste buds into a state of excitement leading you to want to order everything on the menu, but take your time and order carefully and this is a treat you can enjoy more often without worrying about your waistline.
First, ditch the fried poppadums which won’t fill you up on anything but fat-based calories, similarly it’s best to avoid samosas and pakoras which are fried. Instead, ask for chapattis, dhal-based dishes (with lentils), and tomato-based, fish or vegetable-based main courses.
Steer clear of those creamy dishes – such as korma, passanda and tikka massala. And finally, opt for boiled rice instead of fried.
Dining at home? Find delicious Indian recipes
Best healthy choices at a Chinese restaurant
Go for stir-fried veg or lean meats such as chicken, fish, or steamed vegetables.
There are plenty of healthy choices on the Chinese menu as long as you steer clear of the sugary sweet and sour sauces.
Go for stir-fried veg or lean meats such as chicken, fish, or steamed vegetables. And finally, tuck in to dim sum which is steamed, and noodles or boiled rice.
If you do decide to opt for duck and pancakes – and frankly, who can resist? – load up each pancake with lots of spring onions and cucumber which will fill you with digestion-friendly fibre. And remember that the spicy plum sauce that goes with it is as sugar-laden as ketchup, so use it sparingly to add flavour.
Eating in? Try these delicious Chinese recipes
Best healthy choices at a Thai restaurant
Load up on boiled noodle dishes with vegetables or chicken, as well as some of the delicious soups
This is a treat that you can mostly enjoy without concern. Thai food is heavy on vegetables and often contains lots of tasty spices as well as chilli, which will satisfy your taste buds and help curb your appetite.
Coconut-based sauces and dishes are best avoided if you’re trying to reduce your fat or calorie intake, but feel free to load up on boiled noodle dishes with vegetables or chicken, as well as some of the delicious soups, and stir-fried vegetable dishes.
Try cooking up these delicious Thai recipes
Best healthy choices at a Mexican restaurant
Beans are fibre-rich and heart-healthy too.
Beans are your friend when it comes to Mexican as they feature heavily in this cuisine and they’re fibre-rich and heart-healthy too. With spicy fish, flame-grilled chicken or vegetable dishes to choose from, you can view this eating-out treat as part of a healthy diet.
If you do go for vegetable fajitas go light on the sour cream. Similarly, with burritos and enchiladas, check the filling as they are often loaded with high-fat high-calorie foods or sauces.
Cook up your own Mexican feast with these recipes
Best healthy choices at a French restaurant
Avoid pastry-based dishes and instead go for an omelette filled with vegetables or mushrooms.
While French women are renowned for their slim figures, French food might not seem the best choice when you’re trying to lose weight.
Rich and creamy sauces, everything cooked in butter, few, if any, vegetables – it might seem tough to find something ‘healthy’ on the menu. But actually it’s fairly easy to order – choose the dish you’d like, but ask for sauce on the side so you can choose how much to eat (if any) and ask for your meat or fish to be grilled rather than fried.
Avoid pastry-based dishes and instead go for an omelette filled with vegetables or mushrooms, and of course there’s always seafood dishes to choose from which are usually healthy.
Oh la la! Try these recipes from France
Best healthy choices at an Italian restaurant
Go for grilled chicken or fish, a vegetable-based lasagne or tomato-based pasta dish
While the Mediterranean diet has a lot going for it in terms of health – plenty of olive oil, fresh sweet peppers and tomatoes, not to mention lots of fish and salads – an Italian menu will likely feature dishes from other parts of Italy, where rich, creamy sauces and pizzas might not be so heart-healthy.
The most important thing to do at an Italian is to avoid the starters and ask not to be brought any bread – when you’re hungry you tend to tuck into the white bread, adding up calories without getting much appetite-slowing fibre or protein.
Go for grilled chicken or fish, a vegetable-based lasagne or tomato-based pasta dish, and always choose a thin-base pizza with vegetable, chicken or tuna toppings. For dessert, try to steer clear of the creamy tiramisu and opt for a sorbet instead.
Find inspirational Italian recipes in our food section
Best healthy choices at High Street restaurants
Not all high-street eateries serve only burgers these days – there’s Nandos serving Portugese-style chicken, Pret-a-Manger selling gourmet sandwiches and soups, and even McDonald’s has several fish-based and salad-based choices and an 'under 600 calories' section of the menu.
But with some burger chains making the headlines for the high calorie content of their ‘healthy’ salads, how can you tell what’s best to eat?
The key here is to inform yourself and make a plan. Often the calorie information is available online so you can always checkout the menu before you go. If you are familiar with the lower fat, lower calorie options, it becomes easier to make a healthier choice at the table.
Final tips for dining out on a diet
- Check menus in advance to see what's on offer (some restaurants now have separate vegan menus too, which often have healthy options on them)
- Drink water before your meal so you feel less hungry and thirsty (drinking alcohol with your meal will also up the calorie content significantly)
- Don't snack on bread or breadsticks before the meal
- Opt for food options that have been baked or grilled instead of fried
- Avoid adding too many calorie packed sauces, which can also be high in sugar and salt
- Eat slowly and mindfully, making sure to take in taste, smell and texture, so that what you do order is more satisfying
- Adjust your other daily meals accordingly, for example if you're planning a three course meal in the evening opt for a healthy soup for lunch
Finally, if you're dining out for a special occasion and rarely eat in restaurants then don't worry too much about it. An occasional treat is not going to damage your dieting efforts, and depriving yourself too much could backfire and make you give up. If you're trying to eat in a calorie deficit you could opt to eat at maintenance calories for that day, but as long as your weekly calories are still in a deficit you should continue to lose weight even if one day is a bit of a cheat day.
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