Menu interpretation should be a sport. It requires focus and dedication, you have to train pretty hard and in our experience, it can get pretty competitive. So here’s some coaching on how you can hack menus to eat out, make healthy choices and most importantly, enjoy it.
Entree, main and dessert. It hasn’t been that simple for a long time. Often modern-day menus will have amuse bouche, starters, entrees, sides, share plates, mains – don’t forget the specials or the entirely separate pizza menu – and then finally, desserts.
This means there’s now a lot of choice. We recommend taking your time when navigating a menu. Think about what you feel like, what you have already eaten that day and how much food you really need.
Nutritionist Susie Burrell told Body + Soul: “the main reason we are more likely to put on weight is because when we dine out we tend to eat more.”
And think about why you’re eating out.
“If you are going to a restaurant you have booked three months ahead for, enjoy it and order what you feel like,” Susie said.
“But if you are just getting a takeaway on a Monday night, stick to a basic meat and vegetables stir-fry.”
Dinner, lunch or brunch. If you’ve made it to a restaurant and have secured a table, the sparkling, still or tap water is on the way and the menu is in hand, try and remember these healthy dining tips:
- Avoid the table bread. Short of some kind of delicious broth that needs mopping up, the table bread with oil starter is usually not necessary. Yes, it’s tempting because … hunger
- Ask about the entree size. If you’re considering a side and (maybe) a dessert, think about how much food that really is. Chances are an entree will suffice and it’ll save you some money
- Speaking of sides. Most restaurants will have some kind of seasonal green accompaniment available. It’s a good choice
- It’s a good idea to ask for sauces and dressings on the side. If you ask, most places are happy to substitute salad dressings for plain olive oil so you can avoid sugar and other additives. Even balsamic vinegar contains sugar
- Be careful to keep track of tapas and share plates. It’s easy to over order when multiple smaller plates are on offer. Take stock of just how many people you’re dining with and how much food is on the way.
That brings us to dessert …
To dessert or not to dessert. It’s a hard thing to resist. One option is to share. Another is to look a little wider than the dessert section of the menu.
Often it’s the extra little snack we crave, not necessarily the sugar. If others around you are ordering a sugary treat, why not ask for the full menu again and take another look at those sides.
If you’re trying to cut back on sugar, there’s often something equally satisfying – and still indulgent – on the sides or starters menu that could take the snacking edge off.
Another option? Cheese.
Cheese is often served in restaurants in small portions with simple crackers and maybe even some fruit. It’s a nice savoury way to finish off a meal. It’s not sugar but it’s cheese. Guys … cheese. No one is complaining.