We’re well and truly in the midst of social season right now, and I bet Christmas parties, family get-togethers and meals with friends are featuring quite heavily on your calendar. I know my diary is pretty packed for the next few weeks, mainly with events that generally involve lots of opportunities to indulge!
Of course it’s lovely to catch up with friends and family over good food, but if you’re trying to maintain healthy eating habits, eating out can really put those good intentions to the test. Faced with the possibility of giving in to temptation, it would appear that many of us end up avoiding eating out altogether. Recent research commissioned by Weight Watchers revealed that over a quarter of Brits cancel social occasions because they’re following a fad diet, with 71% of UK dieters saying their diet was incompatible with socialising.
But do you really need to avoid eating out when you’re trying to stick to a healthy diet?
Weight Watchers doesn’t think so. The leading global weight management company focuses on changing your relationship with food, as opposed to following a strict, fad diet that’s incompatible with restaurant menus. The aim is to help you form healthy eating habits that work for you and are sustainable long-term, which feels altogether a more sensible and positive way to approach food and nutrition.
To help tackle the effect of restrictive diets on socialising, Weight Watchers has appointed the UK’s first ever Official Eating Officer. Their job is to dine in the nation’s most popular restaurants, with the aim of proving that it’s possible to eat out and still maintain healthy eating habits.
As part of this campaign, you may recall that Weight Watchers set me a similar challenge: to eat out at three different restaurants on three different social occasions, with the aim of eating out healthily and still enjoying myself.
Here’s how I got on.
Browns Bar and Brasserie
It’s not often Mark and I get the chance to dine out without the kids, so when we do visit a restaurant that’s aimed more at adult dining, it’s very tempting to binge. As this was a dining occasion that can be a real willpower test for me, I thought it was a great candidate for my Weight Watchers challenge.
We visited Browns Bar and Brasserie in Nottingham city centre, which has a grand cafe setting and offers everything from salad to steak and chips to lobster.
Much to my relief, choosing healthy options was actually really easy. For my starter, I chose a veg-packed pumpkin soup (I’d guess at about 5SP) with a single slice of bread and a portion of butter (4SP). I’d recommend ordering this if you get the chance – it’s flavoured with five spice and the cloves really come through to give a quite distinctive taste that’s perfect for the festive season.
My main course was a quinoa and bean salad (6SP), which was jewelled with pomegranate seeds and dressed with a fruity vinaigrette. After the soup, this made for a really satisfying meal, packed with healthy ingredients.
I chose raspberry sorbet for dessert (4SP), which finished off the meal nicely, and brought the whole delicious lunch to approximately 19SP.
According to Weight Watchers, to maintain my current healthy weight, I should be following a daily target of 35SP. I also get a further weekly allowance of 49SP, which is perfect to save up for just this sort of occasion. So my lunch didn’t ‘break the bank’, so to speak, I really enjoyed myself, and I only needed a light dinner later too. Perfect!
Eating out with the kids is another weakness for me. I kind of want to celebrate us all being out together by spoiling everyone, and that doesn’t always mean healthy choices! As expected, visiting Harvester in Wilford turned out to be the toughest part of my challenge.
The kids options on the Harvester menu are already pretty healthy, with a good balance of veg. However, most of the adult options are fried treats, loaded burgers or piles of pasta covered in cheese. Oh the temptation!
Nevertheless, when you’re determined, you can find a way. You get unlimited trips to the salad bar at Harvester, so we all opted to make those our starters. I stuck to the options that didn’t involve lots of dressings, coleslaw and pasta, and still had a bowl piled with a tempting range of ingredients. With some olives and sweetcorn thrown in, I’d guess my salad totalled about 5SP.
For my main course, the waitress suggested Sweet Potato Jambalaya (I’d estimate about 24SP) which I shared with Mark, meaning 12SP for me. It was hearty, filling and had a good portion of veggies in there too. Admittedly, it wasn’t the healthiest option, but I was starting to realise that if you go for a good, satisfying starter while your good intentions are at their strongest, it’s easier to continue that way.
With the sharing option working well for me, Miss J and I split a sticky toffee pudding for dessert (I’d estimate about 14SP, so 7SP for me). She couldn’t have managed a whole portion, and it worked well for me as I could have my favourite dish without overdoing it.
After three courses I was absolutely stuffed for around 24SP. Not bad, considering I had jambalaya, cake and ice cream!
Finally on the Weight Watchers challenge, I had a rare chance to grab a bite to eat with one of my old friends from uni this week. Back when we were studying in Sheffield, I lived above a curry house, so curry was the obvious choice for our meal.
I have to admit, the idea of successfully eating out healthily at a curry house had me worried. All those rich, creamy sauces and piles of naan bread are very much blow-out territory, aren’t they?!
We decided to visit Tamatanga, which is part of the Cornerhouse in central Nottingham. I decided the best way to control the temptation was to check out the menu online before I visited, so that by the time we were sitting at the table I would already had a pretty good idea of the healthiest options.
This worked really well, and once we were there all I had to do was ask the waitress a couple of questions about ingredients and make my final choice. I’m finding that a little research is necessary at the beginning to helps you learn what healthy choices look like when dining out, but after a while, you don’t need to do it anymore as you instinctively know what will work best.
I found the typical curry house starters such as bhajis and samosas were all quite rich and calorific, so I chose a side salad with no dressing, coming in at 0SP! This was a light way to enjoy a starter with a friend, and also provided a good portion of healthy fresh produce.
For my main course, I avoided the dishes which had creamy, buttery sauces and went for Tandoori Vegetable Skewers. It was a really delicious, vegetable-based option with a side of protein-rich lentils. I’d estimate this came in at about 10SP as the veggies were all 0SP, but there were a couple of yummy paneer chunks and some tandoori sauce. I also had a small portion of rice, of which I only managed half (4SP).
For dessert, I went straight for the passion fruit sorbet which satisfied my sweet tooth without going heavy on the indulgence (approx 4SP).
After three courses in an Indian restaurant I would usually be feeling uncomfortably full, but this time I could tell that I hadn’t overloaded my system .It was all so delicious, only about 18SP for three courses, and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a curry so much.
It was really good to catch up with an old friend, I didn’t feel like I was missing out food-wise, and I walked away knowing I’d made healthy choices instead of eating greasy food until I pop! All in all a big success!
So what have I learned from my healthy eating out challenge? Well I can honestly say that I found it easier than I expected to eat out and stick to a healthy diet. Yes, there was some initial learning involved, but the fact is I managed three meals out without overindulging and didn’t feel I missed out on anything. That’s amazing.
I’ve learned that, as with healthy eating more generally, learning to dine out healthily is about changing your relationship with the food on offer.
You do need good intentions; there will inevitably be unhealthy options on the menu, and you need to accept that you can’t go for those, or if you do, you need to portion control by sharing, for example.
I think if you can concentrate on the fact that there will be some really tasty alternatives for you to enjoy, and how good you’ll feel afterwards, you move the focus away from denial and more onto the pleasure that eating out healthily should bring.
What do you think – could this approach make eating out healthily more achievable for you? For more support and advice check out the Weight Watchers Official Eating Officer’s journey here – and do share your own tips for eating out healthily in the comments.
This is a commissioned post for Weight Watchers