Dining Out Healthily

Outside foods are often perceived as being unhealthy, i.e. they are oily, high in fat, or contain too much salt, flavourings and sugar. Consuming these in high amounts as part of a staple diet has been linked to an increased risk of obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases (e.g. diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancers) which has become a major cause of morbidity and mortality in Malaysia.

So, does it mean that we should not eat out at all? While preparing your own meals at home is the preferred choice, this may not be possible every day, every meal. Indeed, a recent study found that more than 64% of Malaysians eat out at least once per day, while 12.5% of those who eat at home have at least one take-out meal. Children also eat out all the time; at the school canteen, at food stalls or cafes after school and at home, on days where they need to order take out from restaurants with delivery services.

Is it possible to make healthier choices when dining out? Yes, it is entirely possible to dine out healthily. Below are some tips to help you out when you have to eat out of home.

Tips To Dining Out Right

Today’s packed and hectic schedule is exhausting and leaves less time for parents to prepare healthy and nutritious meals at home for their children. Nevertheless, healthy eating while dining can be achieved if you have the proper know-how.

Go for variety and balance

The right amount of variety of different foods is of the utmost importance. Remember, no one food can supply all the optimal nutrients your child needs. So make sure they get their nutrition by going for meals that have a variety of ingredients from all the major foods groups (cereals & cereal products; vegetables; fish, poultry, meat & legumes) in balanced amount.

If you find the portion is unbalanced (i.e. lack of veges or too much rice), ask to be served additional/reduced portions. Some stalls charge you for the extras, but your child’s health is worth it. Too much of the same food is also not good even if it’s considered ’healthy’.

portion-plate-for-children

Opt for healthier cooking methods

Whenever possible, choose foods prepared using healthier cooking methods (i.e. steamed, boiled, baked, roasted or braised). Here are some examples to help you start off:

healthier-cooking-methods

Start teaching them early

Bad eating habits when dining out (and in) such as overeating, late night suppers (after 10 p.m), eating foods high in fats, salt and sugar too often or binge eating can be avoided if parents practice and teach the benefits of good eating habits early. Additionally, when dining out, ask for less salt, sugar and fat in meals. Preference for salt and sugar is shaped by dietary exposure from young, so the less salt and sugar children consume, the less they want as they grow older.

Share the love

Restaurants usually prepare their meals in adult portions, so try sharing instead of ordering individual meals. This way you reduce the amount of calories you and your child consume.

Be aware of hidden traps

Watch out for hidden fat, salt and sugar in foods (i.e. meat or chicken fat, oil in gravy). To enhance the taste of their meals, some restaurants use too much flavouring. If possible, put in a request to use less of these items when cooking. Similarly, you can teach your child not to finish off soups or gravy that comes with the meal or add too much sauce or dressings as these contain a lot of salt.

Drink plain water

When you dine out, try to refrain from drinking sugar sweetened drinks. There is no shame in ordering plain water – squeeze a lemon or lime for flavour if you want. You may also have your child drink one glass before a meal so that they don’t feel too hungry while waiting for their order.

Choosing fruits as dessert

Restaurants usually offer indulging desserts. Change it up a bit by ordering an assortment of fresh, cool fruits instead – fruits are generally low in calorie and taste great!

Don’t be shy to demand for healthier meals when dining out; in fact, it should be a habit of every Malaysian family. Good and understanding vendors appreciate and respect our preference and will adjust to our needs. These are the eateries worth going to with the family.

To put it in a nutshell, when dining out, make it a point to

  1. ask for suggestions on healthier options,
  2. be aware of the way your child’s food is prepared,
  3. eat in balance, moderation and variety,
  4. equip yourself with some knowledge on good nutrition and
  5. make sure you child is involved in this healthy lifestyle you have chosen for the family.

Finally, though making informed choices while dining out can help your family eat better and live healthier, you should at least try to cook one meal a day for the family. Here, you can choose the ingredients and cooking method for yourself. It’s well worth the effort because ultimately, this will benefit the health of your family and it’s cheaper too!

An educational collaboration with Nutrition Society of Malaysia.

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