It is totally acceptable to ask the chef for an alternative. Photo: Dreamstime
Anyone who’s watching those calories is often at a fix when invited to a Friday night party or a mid-week birthday dinner - to go or not to go, or to go and not to eat? Eating healthy at restaurants isn’t that tough anymore. Whether you’re going out to an Indian or an international restaurant, these tips and tricks will help you find balance. It’s more about your lifestyle than being on a diet after all.
Breakfast for dinner
Eggs are one of the healthiest breakfasts, but they work just as well for dinner. Pair an egg curry with a wholewheat roti or an omelette with multigrain toast and a salad for a balanced meal, protein-rich meal. Many restaurants offer “breakfast all day” sections on their menu, so you can order your favourite boiled or poached eggs any time of the day.
Ask, Ask, Ask
You might have overheard someone at Starbucks asking for a “non-fat, no-whip, sugar-free, extra-hot" Caramel Macchiato” or something on those lines. The point being: at most restaurants, it is totally acceptable to ask for an alternative and the staff will try to honour your request.
At your local favourite dosa place, ask it to be cooked in little or no oil.
If you’re ordering a sandwich, ask for your sandwich to be made with multi-grain bread and grilled without the extra butter. Even a rich Indian meal can be made just a tad lighter if you ask the staff to skip the garnish of additional cream and butter. When ordering a drink that is made to order like a fresh lime soda or iced tea, ask for the sugar syrup on the side. This way, you control how much sweetener is added.
Choose grilled or baked dishes
Always look out for these keywords to know how your dish will be cooked - crispy, crunchy, battered - all mean fried, while seared, roasted, al forno, braised usually refer to something that is baked or pan-cooked.
The same dish steamed, grilled or baked rather than fried gives you almost the same flavour and satisfaction without the added guilt. At your local pub or deli restaurant, you can ask for your burger patty to be grilled or baked. At a Chinese restaurant, opt for steamed dumplings over wontons and spring rolls. In comparison to a cream-laden chicken butter masala, a grilled chicken or fish tikka ordered as a main course item packs in the same protein and flavour minus the extra calories.
Skip the condiments
Mayonnaise and ketchup are modern-day killers that are packed with trans fats and unnecessary sugar. Skipping or reducing these can help you get back on track. Even at your local fast food burger spot, you can ask for your burger to be made without the mayo and ketchup.
Balance it out
Whenever you know in advance that you will be having a heavy dinner, you can balance the meals by focusing on fresh vegetables and salad for lunch. Similarly, if lunch will be an Italian meal that is primarily carb-based, aim to have a protein-rich dinner the same evening. This way, you won’t end up feeling like you’ve overloaded yourself in a single day.
It’s all about the research
If you’re going out to dinner, read the menu in advance and choose one or two dishes that you plan to eat. Even it means telling yourself to pass this off as food-related excitement, a recent study suggests that meal planning can be beneficial.
The results of the study showed that “ordering meals when you’re already hungry and ready to eat leads to an overall increase in the number of calories ordered”. Essentially, you make better, less indulgent decisions when you aren’t starving. Another way to avoid that from happening is carrying a small bag of nuts to snack on.
Everything in moderation
You can also make a rule when eating out like choose two of the three between the breadbasket, a drink and dessert. It's all about self-control. Keeping all this in mind, make it a point to eat and enjoy the things you don’t get or make for yourself at home. That way, you actually feel like you’ve enjoyed a meal out and time spent with friends and family.
The author recently moved back to India after studying at the University of Michigan and working at Goldman Sachs in New York. She shares recipes and travel tips on her blogThe India Edition.