10 ways to eat out at Christmas without putting on weight
Whether it’s lunch with work colleagues or an evening celebrating with friends, most of us tend to eat out more over the festive period. Senior Dietitian Victoria Taylor offers her tips for eating out without overdoing it.
The holidays are the season of good cheer, which means parties, eating out and indulging at home – but it is possible to eat, drink and be merry without overdoing it. Here are my tips for joining in this Christmas while keeping an eye on your waistline and good health, without seeming like Scrooge!
1. On the first (and second, and third) day of Christmas…
A one-off Christmas meal out probably won’t make any difference to your health in the grand scheme of things, so enjoy it. However, if it’s one of many, consider carefully how it fits into your overall diet. This could mean having a lighter meal in the evening, like soup or a sandwich, if you had a big meal earlier in the day. Or you could choose the healthiest menu options to make the meal fit into your normal diet, rather than just going for your favourites.
2. Check what’s on the menu
One of the best ways to ensure you make healthy choices when eating out is to check the menu before you arrive, whether online or in person. It means you can choose your meal without others influencing you. Many larger restaurant chains offer nutritional information online.
3. Three, two or one?
The tendency when we eat out is to have more than we would at home. Sticking to just one course once you see what everyone else is having is hard. Decide before you begin if you are going to have a starter or a dessert, and which one you’ll find easier to decline. Having a coffee or cup of tea while others have a pudding is a good way to round off a meal, or you could share a pudding with others.
4. Adapt and thrive
Don’t be afraid to ask the restaurant to adapt dishes. It’s not usually a problem to replace chips with a jacket potato, salad or vegetables. You can also ask for no extra cheese, butter or oil, and to put sauces in a dish on the side.
5. Portion control
It can be easy to eat more than you intended when eating out. If you don’t want to feel too stuffed, consider a starter (perhaps with a side order of vegetables), instead of a main course, or ask for a smaller portion.
Read more about getting your portions right
6. Tuck in to turkey
The traditional Christmas dinner isn’t a bad choice when it comes to eating out. Turkey is a lean meat, and plenty of vegetables with your meal is good. However, keep an eye on portion size. Plates can be full of roast potatoes and parsnips, which come with extra fat and therefore calories. Sausages wrapped in bacon, stuffing balls and gravy can all be high in salt, which is bad for your blood pressure and can make you thirstier, leading you to drink more alcoholic or sugary drinks than you had planned.
Find out more about salt
7. A bit on the side
Having a good helping of vegetables with your meal will add vitamins, minerals and fibre and help you towards your five a day, but beware vegetables that come with added butter, cheese sauce or salt. Ask the server for more information and see if there are any healthier alternatives.
8. Entertain at home
We all enjoy eating out sometimes, but have you considered inviting family or friends round for a meal? That way you can control what’s on the menu, and it’s often cheaper, too. Ask your guests to bring a dish if you don’t want to be overwhelmed by cooking, although don’t forget to let them know if you want them to bring a healthier option.
Read more about healthy entertaining
9. Be drink aware
It's important to stay within the guidelines of 14 units a week for men and women, particularly if you are going to be socialising more than usual. Don’t forget the calories that drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, can add. If you can, choose sugar-free drinks or water, and alternate these with any alcoholic drinks you are having.
Read more about alcohol and your heart
10. Fancy a nibble?
Nibbles are seemingly everywhere at Christmas. It’s fine to indulge in the odd mince pie, shortbread biscuit, festive tipple or a chocolate sweet, but sticking to a regular pattern of meals and snacks will help to make sure you aren’t hungry between meals and help maintain your willpower.
Read our guide to what’s really in those Christmas nibbles