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’.
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:
Start teaching them early
Share the love
Be aware of hidden traps
Drink plain water
Choosing fruits as dessert
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
- ask for suggestions on healthier options,
- be aware of the way your child’s food is prepared,
- eat in balance, moderation and variety,
- equip yourself with some knowledge on good nutrition and
- 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.