Whether you’re trying to lose weight, have lost weight and want to keep it off, or avoiding the inevitable scale creep, a few good strategies make it easy to still succeed while enjoying meals away from home with friends.
It’s all about sharing, ordering the right amount, and staying aware of how satisfied you’re feeling…
1. Choose a menu that is easily shared
Asian, Middle-Eastern, Latin American cuisines and some European dishes are traditionally shared and lend themselves particularly well to meals for groups.
Many more contemporary and fusion restaurant menus are now also planned around dishes that are designed to be shared.
…..And choose dishes that can easily be shared
Often staff will be a great help when picking dishes that use smaller pieces or can easily be divided. Avoid single pieces (like poultry legs or whole seafood) useless there’s just a couple/few of you (and you perhaps know each other well).
Be aware of how many individual pieces are in the dish, e.g eggplant slices/ prawns/ spring rolls/ duck pancakes. You may need to order 1 1/2 or 2 serves.
The banquet menu can be a good source of ideas but is not a good option in itself (see tip No. 4).
2. Ask for what you need (e.g. whether dishes can be ordered in 1 1/2 serves or cut into extra serves in the kitchen, come with extra bread) including extra bowls, plates and serving cutlery
Restaurant staff are usually more than happy to try to accommodate your needs, if they can. And if you don’t ask….
……And consider halving individual items at the table
I know this can get messy, and it doesn’t always work, but tasting platters for two, can become tasting platters for four with just a quick skilled knife manoeuvre.
3. Aim for a larger range of smaller taste experiences
It can be much more rewarding to try a number of different foods in smaller amounts than to be just limited to one or two dishes, that may or may not be so good. Eat mindfully and savour each mouthful to gain maximum pleasure from each, without getting overfull.
By sharing dishes you are well on the way to a whole range of tastes, but sharing plates and platters can really be your friend here too.
4. But avoid the ‘banquet’ or ‘degustation’ option
It might seem to make sense then, to get the ‘banquet’ option, to make it easy. But it’s usually not the best choice.
For a start, you don’t have control over the dishes you get and they can often be fairly routine foods that everyone knows well.
But perhaps more importantly, it’s always way too much food and you end up eating more than you really enjoy, and paying for more than you otherwise would need to.
5. Don’t order dishes, just because you think you should
There are no rules about needing to order salad, vegetables, breads, rices etc.
Only order them because they are good options or compliment other dishes well, otherwise you end up eating them on top of what you really want to eat.
6. Order the right amount
Unless you eat out rarely, there are regular opportunities to enjoy meals away from home in amounts where you are satisfied but still feel comfortable.
We usually overestimate the amount we need to order and often over cater ‘just in case’. This is one of the reasons that two out three of us carry extra weight. We just don’t need as much food as we once did. And if it’s there, we tend to eat it.
As a general rule of thumb, it’s not necessary to order one main per person. Often 3 mains between four is enough, and one rice/ and or bread, per two people. It’s easy to get more if you need it.
Usually mains are better value than entrees and easier to share, and having dessert can push you over your comfortable range.
However, if there is a really good entree or dessert that’s worth including, you can probably cut back to one main per two people.
Having said that, this way of ordering only works if everyone is ‘on the same page.’ If people eat out rarely, are used to eating large amounts or feeling full at the end of meals, it can be too tricky. You might need to allow for groups of different age and gender.
Sometimes too, people will prefer just to order and eat their own, particularly if they have intolerances, allergies or strong food preferences.
7. Eat mindfully and stay aware of how satisfied and comfortable you are feeling
The first mouthful is always the best, but only if you enjoy it with all your senses. Think of the presentation, textures and flavours as you eat. Best not to talk and savour at the same time, as it’s hard to do both well.
But chatting between mouthfuls is a great way to eat more slowly, so is taking a sip of water between mouthfuls or putting down your cutlery. That way, you give your stomach time to give you feedback; there’s always a lag.
8. Leave dishes in the middle and let everyone serve themselves with what they need
This way, everyone can take just the right amount for them.
9. You don’t need to finish it all
If food is taken from the middle, once everyone’s taken what they will enjoy, there is often the option to take anything you have loved with you to enjoy again later.
(This is not usually the case with the ‘banquet’ option, another reason it’s not often the best choice).
10. Don’t starve and don’t get too hungry before you go out
It is much easier to order well and eat the amount you will enjoy, when you don’t let yourself get too hungry before you go out. Sometimes it even helps to have something small to eat, to tide you over. A piece of fruit or a low fat, no added sugar yogurt are ideal; both highly transportable, easy and low in kilojoules.
If you are thinking of your appetite/capacity like a petrol gauge, it’s good to stay 1/4 to 1/2 full.