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With eating out now a common part of Australian life, it can sometimes seem difficult to enjoy social occasions and stick to your healthy diet. Healthy eating when you’re out can be a challenge, with larger portion sizes and more availability of high-fat foods.

This guide will help you work your way through the maze of food out there, and let you eat out confidentally while sticking to your weight loss goals!

Tips for wise selection

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  1. Select restaurants that can provide food cooked-to-order. Waiters and chefs in better restaurants are usually co-operative with special requests. The requests need only be simple, such as ‘grilled with no fat or oil’ … ‘salad with dressing served separately’ … ‘no cheese sauce please’.
  2.  Telephone ahead before making reservations. Check the style of menu and the types of drinks available. Ask if meals can be prepared without the added fat, oils and sauces. Smorgasbords offer a wide selection of food, allowing you to choose sensibly.
  1. Select carefully from the menu. Always ask about ingredients and cooking methods. Often this reveals a way of reducing the calories, for example ‘The grilled fish is fine, but please leave off the butter sauce.’Be aware that many ‘grilled’ dishes are often basted with fats or oils. Ask for fish or meat to be grilled without oil. If ordering chicken, leave the skin and just eat the meat.
  2. Ask for small portions. Order two entrée dishes or ask for your main meal to be entrée size.
  3.   Avoid foods with descriptions such as: sauteed, fried, crispy, battered, butter sauce, pan-fried, creamed, cream sauce, in its own gravy, in cheese sauce, escalloped, au lait, marinated, basted, casserole, prime, hollandaise, frittata.
  4.  Order salads without dressing, or with the salad dressing in a separate container.
  5.  Ask for a jug of water as a thirst quencher. Beer, wine and fruit juice can add excessive calories to a meal when consumed purely to quench thirst. Often restaurant food is highly seasoned or salted leading to continual thirst. If you are a regular customer ask the owner to stock low joule drinks, mineral water and soda water.
  6.  Eat slowly – it will allow you to enjoy your meal and control your appetite. Don’t be the first to finish a meal; pace yourself with the slowest eater.
  7.  Remember, you do not have to eat the entire meal. If the serving size is large then leave some on your plate.
  8.  Good restaurant owners appreciate feedback. Let them know if they catered sufficiently for your needs e.g. low-fat choices, low calorie drinks, smoke-free areas. They will respond to market needs if alerted to them.

Menu items to choose and avoid

Choose…Avoid…
Entrée
  • Consomme vegetable soup
  • Fruit cocktail
  • Oysters
  • Seafood platter (not deep-fried)
  • Cream soups
  • Paté
  • Deep fried spring rolls
  • Garlic bread
Main Course
  • Fish, grilled, baked, steamed
  • Lean meat
  • Chicken, baked, grilled
  • Vegetarian
  • Pasta – with tomato or vegetable based sauces (not creamy ones)
  • Anything fried, deep-fried, or in a butter sauce
  • Creamy sauces
  • Skin & fat of chicken
  • Pastry pies, cheese
  • Lasagne, cannelloni, ravioli
Salads, Vegetables & Sides
  • Salads – green, dressing on the side
  • Vegetables – steamed, boiled
  • Potatoes – baked in jacket, no sour cream
  • Rice – steamed, boiled
  • Oil dressings, mayonnaise
  • Butter, margarine
  • Sour cream
  • Mashed potatoes made with cream and butter
  • Fried rice
Breads
  • All plain bread and rolls are suitable – have 1 small roll only
  • Garlic & herb bread
  • Butter, margarine
Desserts
  • Strawberries, melons, baked apple
  • Fruit compote, frozen fruit ices
  • Sorbet, ice confections, gelato
  • Fruit pies, pastries, cream, gateaux
  • Cheesecake, cakes
  • After dinner mints/chocolates
  • Cheese and biscuits
Beverages
  • Tomato juice
  • Water: Plain/Mineral/Soda
  • Low joule/diet soft drinks
  • Wine diluted 50% with cold water or mineral/soda water
  • Low alcohol beer
  • Tea, coffee
  • Fruit juice (1 glass maximum)
  • Regular soft drinks
  • Flavoured mineral water
  • Full strength wine or beer (or limit to 2 drinks only)
  • No cream, sugar

Breakfast – Get a Good Start

You’ve heard it a million times before; Breakfast is the most important meal for the day. If you haven’t got time for breakfast at home, be careful what you choose! Many breakfast takeaway options are loaded with fat and sugar.

Choose…Avoid…
  • Porridge or whole-grain cereal topped with fresh fruit and low-fat or skim milk
  • Whole-grain bread, bagel or English muffin with low joule jam or Vegemite
  • Raisin toast spread thinly with low joule jam
  • Fresh fruit and no-fat natural yoghurt
  • Omelette made with egg whites filled with tomato and onion and served with whole-grain toast
  • Buckwheat pancakes topped with low joule maple syrup
  • Hash browns
  • Croissants
  • Toasted bacon and egg sandwich
  • Egg and sausage McMuffin
  • Bacon/sausages and fried eggs
  • Fruit muffins

Note: Some jumbo-sized fruit muffins can contain as much as 560 calories and 26 grams of fat. You could have 5 slices of wholemeal toast and jam for around the same calories and save yourself about 20g of fat!

Low-fat lunches

Choosing a healthy, satisfying lunch helps you get through the rest of your day without feeling hungry, tired or bloated.

Choose…Avoid…
  • Sushi, californian rolls, sashimi
  • A bowl of vegetable soup
  • served with a wholemeal roll
  • Wholemeal sandwiches,
  • roll, bagel, foccacia, turkish bread, pitta bread

Healthy filling suggestions:

  • Lean ham
  • Lean roast beef
  • Turkey breast
  • Skinless Chicken breast
  • Salmon
  • Prawn
  • Tuna in springwater
  • Low-fat Cottage cheese
  • Salad
  • For extra flavour add mustard, chutney, low-fat mayonnaise, cranberry sauce, pickles, roasted capsicum, pickled vegetables, or gherkin
  • Hot chips
  • Meat pies
  • Sausage rolls
  • Fried chicken
  • Pasties
  • Chiko rolls
  • Hot beef rolls with gravy
  • Salami
  • Polony
  • Quiche
  • Hot dogs
  • Spring rolls
  • Fried fish & chips

Asian

Traditional Asian food is generally low in fat if you choose stir-fried vegetables, steamed rice or rice noodles and small portions of meat. The calories and fat start to add up when selecting foods that have been battered and deep fried.

Choose…Avoid…
Entrée
  • Wonton soup
  • Chicken and Corn soup
  • Crab and Asparagus soup
  • Clear soups
  • Steamed spring rolls or vegetable dumplings
  • Spring rolls
  • Prawn crackers
  • Prawn toast
  • Spicy chicken wings
  • Dim sims
Mains
  • Steamed rice
  • Braised Chicken, Beef or Seafood & Vegetables
  • Chicken, Beef or Squid in Black Bean sauce
  • Steamed Ginger Fish and Vegetables
  • Steamed Bok Choy with Oyster sauce
  • Chow Mien
  • Any dish described as sizzling
  • Mongolian type dishes
  • Sweet and sour battered dishes, e.g. sweet and sour pork, lemon chicken
  • Crispy fried noodles
  • Any dish made with coconut milk or nuts
  • BBQ spare ribs – unless you want to wear a spare tyre under your ribs!
  • Special fried rice
Dessert
  • Fruit salad & icecream
  • Fried ice-cream

Italian

When eating Italian think red (such as Napolitana sauce) and not white (such as Carbonara sauce) to save lots of calories and fat. Any item that has been crumbed and fried will also contain too many calories and fat.

Choose…Avoid…
Entrée
  • Minestrone soup
  • Char-grilled seafood
  • Italian Garden Salad – go easy on the dressing
  • Garlic bread or herb bread
  • Antipasto
Mains
  • Spaghetti Marinara
  • Pasta with tomato, chilli and basil
  • Grilled chicken breast served with a Napolitana (tomato) sauce
  • Char-grilled Carpaccio served with vegetables or salad
  • Grilled eggplant pasta
  • Gnocchi with a tomato sauce topping
  • Fettuccini Carbonara
  • Pasta with Pesto
  • Lasagna
  • Risotto
  • Veal Parmigiana
  • Spicy Italian sausages
Dessert
  • Gelati
  • Fruit Salad
  • Cappuccino, Latte, Flat white – request skim milk
  • Tiramisu
  • Marscarpone mousse
  • Cakes
  • Cheeseboard

Mediterranean Café Style

Café dining complements the casual Australian lifestyle. Enjoy the ambience of the relaxed atmosphere but don’t become too relaxed in your menu selection.

Choose…Avoid…
Entrée
  • Tossed Garden Salad
  • Vegetable or Minestrone soup
  • Toasted Turkish bread with Tzatziki Dip (Cucumber/yoghurt/garlic dip)
  • Spinach Salad – no bacon, croutons or pinenuts
  • Bread – no spread
  • Garlic bread or herb bread
  • Bruschetta with goats cheese
  • Antipasto
  • Cream based soups
  • Chunky chips, wedges or fries
Mains
Ask for entrée sized dishes, salad dressings on the side, and use parmesan cheese sparingly.

  • Thai Chicken Salad
  • Spinach Salad
  • Mixed Char-grilled Seafood Salad
  • Spaghetti Marinara
  • Penne with tomato and basil
  • Toasted Turkish bread or Foccacia with char-grilled vegetables (no cheese)
  • Grilled Fish with a tossed garden salad
  • Steak Sandwich with salad
  • Grilled Chicken Burger with salad
  • Grilled Skinless Chicken Breast and salad
  • Vegetarian Pizza – request less cheese
  • Caesar Salad
  • Fettuccini Carbonara
  • Pasta with Pesto
  • Lasagna
  • Risotto
  • Veal Parmigiana
  • Burgers
  • Greek Salad
  • Thai Green Chicken Curry
Dessert
  • Fruit salad
  • Gelato or ice confectionary
  • Cakes
  • Brownies
  • Cheesecake
  • Cheese platter
  • Chocolates

Dinner party tips

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  • Plan ahead for dinner parties. BYO low joule drinks such as plain mineral water. Act as the skipper and skip the alcohol.
  • Don’t go feeling hungry – have a small low-fat, healthy snack and some water before you arrive
  • Avoid the pre-dinner high-fat snacks, such as potato chips, corn chips, spring rolls, curry puffs, cheese, dips, pate, crackers, cold meats and nuts
  • Talk more and eat less
  • Ask to help serve the meal and keep to smaller portions. Fill up on plain vegetables and salad without dressings
  • Practise saying “No thank you” in an assertive but polite manner. For example “Thank you for an enjoyable meal….but I am full. Could I have another coffee please?”

Fast food guide

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Occasional fast-food meals can be fitted into a healthy diet, but eating them regularly is not a good idea. This applies both to meals from fast-foods outlets and to similar types of meals bought from the supermarket freezer and prepared at home.

The concern is not only with the nutritional content of the meal, but also with the way this type of eating influences our attitudes to food, and – more importantly – the attitudes of our children.

The influences may extend into the family, with parents purchasing the growing number of frozen convenience products that attempt to emulate the foods of the fast-food outlets; such as frozen chips and french fries, frozen pizzas and pies, T.V. dinners.

Hints for wise choices

  1. Choose chicken that has been rotisseried or barbecued rather than fried or deep fried . . . and save around 120 calories and 13g fat per quarter chicken. Remove the skin and stuffing and save an extra 130 calories and 14g fat . . . a total saving of 250 calories!
  2. Avoid deep-fried foods such as chicken, chicken nuggets, fish, chips, onion rings, spring rolls, and banana/pineapple fritters
  3. Avoid the salad dressing when choosing salads from a salad bar. Each tablespoon can add up to 80 calories and 8g fat
  4. Request takeaway sandwiches/rolls to be made without butter or margarine and save at least 80 calories. Ask to ‘skip the mayonnaise’. Most sandwich bars are happy to oblige. Choose wholemeal bread for a more tasty and satisfying sandwich/roll
  5. Having Mexican? Choose a Bean Burrito over a Beef Burrito Supreme and save 100 calories. Bean dishes are usually lower in calories than beef dishes. Avoid corn chips and too much cheese. Avoid nacho dishes
  6. When eating Chinese, always choose the items that have the lowest fat content, e.g. steamed rice, combination vegetables, seafood dishes (not deep-fried), steamed spring rolls, barbecued chicken or pork
  7. Choose whole, jacket potatoes or mashed potato rather than chips. Chips have a larger surface area to absorb fat, and therefore calories. The smaller the chip size, the higher the calories. Coleslaw or bean salad are lower calorie alternatives to chips. Beans in particular are nutritious and add fibre.
  8. Choose sweetcorn cobettes without butter where available. Corn is high in fibre and filling, yet moderate in calories.
  9. Choose ‘low joule’ soft drinks, or plain mineral water. These give you big calorie savings over sweetened varieties. Orange juice represents a large calorie saving over thickshakes.
  10. Avoid desserts. The limited range in fast-food outlets are usually high in fat, sugar and calories. Stop off at the fruit markets on the way home and treat yourself and the family to a fresh fruit dessert . . . just the thing to add some fibre and cleanse the palate!
Calorie King
CalorieKing's mission is to provide the best information, tools and education to Australians to help them conquer their weight.

CalorieKing is the brainchild of Allan Borushek, registered dietitian, co-found here at food.com.au and author of "Allan Borushek's Pocket Calorie & Fat Counter", Australia's best-selling calorie counter for over 30 years.
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