Don’t go cold on your healthy eating habits this winter:
5 ‘restaurant rules’ for navigating any menu
When the cold weather hits and you’re dining out with friends, do you tend to throw your fresh chicken salads aside and opt instead for carb-loaded meals like pasta carbonara or hearty meat pies? We hit up fitness and nutrition expert and Jeunesse ZEN Project 8 developer Mark Macdonald for his rules on navigating any menu to help stay on track this winter.
Mark reminds us it’s important to realise that restaurant food is designed to provide a powerful tastebud experience by loading dishes with excess fat, sodium, complex carbohydrates and tons of calories. Anything else becomes dry and boring and this is the kiss of death for any restaurant! Armed with this knowledge, the good news is that you can rock a healthy eating program and still love every bite by following these five simple strategies.
Rule 1: Decide if you’re eating “on plan”
It’s easy to walk into a restaurant with the thought of staying on track with your healthy eating plan, only to end up having an “off plan” meal instead. As an impulsive decision, chances are you will feel guilty and probably won’t enjoy your meal anyway. If you go into a restaurant with the decision to eat “off plan” – enjoy it, guilt free! Everyone needs a cheat meal every now and then to stay satisfied and stay on track. FOMO is no way to go through life! If you decide to eat “on plan” then you will need the next four tips to help navigate the menu.
Rule 2: Make sure your blood sugar is stable when you get to the restaurant
Have you ever gone to a restaurant starving? The first thing you do is reach for the bread basket, and you keep on reaching until your hunger dissipates. This is your body craving sugar to stabilise itself. The simple way to prevent this is to time your meals so that you go to the restaurant ready to eat, not starving.
The way you can keep your blood sugar stable and prevent yourself from reaching for the bread is by eating half a meal two hours beforehand, which doesn’t fill you up before your meal. This might be a protein shake or avocado on rice crackers. By the time your food arrives, your body will be ready to be re-fuelled again.
Rule 3: Pick your protein first
Menus can be daunting. There’s the starters and salads then an array of dishes with chicken, beef, lamb, seafood, surf and turf, pastas, burgers and so much more. Where do you start? With the protein! And work the rest of your meal around this. Choose a meal that is a combination of protein, fats and carbs to help stabilise blood sugar levels. If you want chicken or fish as your protein, then you have the option of adding some dressings to your vegetables or salad. If you want a steak, then that covers your fat portion as well, so just add some clean veggies or salad to the side.
Rule 4: Request all sauce and salad dressing on the side
The problem often with choosing a salad or vegetables, is that chefs like to wow your tastebuds with sauces and dressings, which are loaded with sodium and fat. In small quantities, this won’t throw out your eating plan, but restaurants have the habit of using way too much. Think about a house salad and the amount of dressing that comes with it. Each tablespoon of dressing has about 12 grams of fat. That means you are getting 108 calories per tablespoon. A typical salad has an average of 3 tablespoons of dressing, or 36 grams of fat and 324 calories!
Strategy 5: Always eat when drinking alcohol
When your nutritionist says you can drink and still stay on a healthy eating plan, you stand up and listen! Mark advocates healthy eating as a sustainable lifestyle, meaning if you want a glass of wine or beer, then you can most certainly have it without the guilt.
When dining out, don’t think you’re doing yourself any favours by foregoing your meal to substitute the calories for your alcohol. Always eat when drinking alcohol, just substitute alcohol as your main carbohydrate. It’s not an even exchange, but it minimizes the damage of drinking by removing calorie-dense carbs. You might choose to have a chicken breast as your protein, spinach salad as a low carb vegetable, balsamic vinaigrette for some fat, and a glass of wine, shot of spirits or a beer as the main carb substitute.
To avoid hindering your hard-earned results, just limit yourself to 1-2 drinks and drink water before, during and after you drink alcohol. Also leave time between your drinking and going to bed, as drinking alcohol within three hours of going to bed can lower your quality of sleep.
Stay on track this winter with these local cafes!
Peter Rabbit (234-244 Hindley St, Adelaide)
- Try the Breakfast Guacamole! Loaded with healthy fats, veggies and a punch of protein with a poached egg, this is a delicious dish full of spice. Just ask to ditch the grilled ciabatta and replace it with either gluten-free bread, roasted tomato or a side of fruit.
- The tasty Friends of salad is an amazing veggie dish with hazelnut dukkha and minted yoghurt which you can enjoy guilt free! Add garlic grilled chicken on the side for your protein boost.
Red House (North Adelaide Railway Station)
- Kick start your day with the Red House Big Breakfast – 2 eggs poached or scrambled (gives you your protein and fat) and then add a veggie frenzy with spinach, tomatoes and mushrooms. Top it with avocado for a super healthy fat.
- The Savoury Red House Chicken Burger wrapped in lettuce is a super healthy hearty chicken burger topped with tomatoes. Keep your taste buds flowing with some field greens & avocado aioli. Make sure to ditch the bacon and Swiss cheese and feel free to add a side of extra veggies.
Mister Sunshine’s (32 George St, Thebarton)
- Keep it simple and clean with a Veggie Egg Scramble. Order 2 eggs (poached or scrambled) and add roast tomato, spinach and mushrooms. Make sure to ditch the ciabatta bread and add some extra veggies or fruit if you want a bigger serving.
- Experience the mouth-watering Slow Roasted Lamb with hummus, cherry tomato, pickled onion, pine nuts & herb yoghurt! Keep it clean by ditching the grilled pita.
- Ignite your taste buds with a Spiced Chicken Burger, ask for it without the brioche bun and add a hearty side of veggies and avocado.