Dining out. It’s a pleasure many of us wish we could do more of.
But if you’re watching your waist, it can feel as if you should be choosing the salad on the menu, even on special occasions.
But according to Sydney-based diet expert Michele Connolly, what you need is a simple ‘dining out strategy’.
And the great news is that she says the focus should be on pleasure not pain.
‘As with life, you can't have everything - but if you’re strategic you can have what you want most,’ Michele tells New Idea.
Here she shares some simple tactics to help you dine out without adding inches to your waist - or forgoing that beloved glass of wine.
Don't arrive famished
‘Although a healthy appetite heightens a dining experience, being ravenous can ruin it. It’s hard to make good choices or even focus on your dining companions if you could eat a horse and a couple of jockey chasers,’ Michele says.
‘A pre-dinner snack is a great way to take the edge off your hunger before heading out. Some natural yogurt and blueberries or pieces of cheese and apple are light choices that let you keep your appetite in a pleasurable zone.’
Banish the bread basket
‘Unless bread is your most favourite joy and delight, skip the bread basket altogether,’ the expert, who is author of a new book ‘How to Be Thin in a world of Chocolate’.
‘If it’s too tempting to have the basket sitting there whispering your name then move it towards dining companions who want it, or ask the waiter to take it away.’
Drink with pleasure not speed
‘Alcohol can be a double challenge - not only can it pack a calorie punch, but it can also impair the ability to make good decisions,’ Michele explains.
‘A good rule of thumb is to limit yourself to two or three drinks over the course of the evening.
‘Avoid calorie-rich cocktails unless that is your beloved splurge and you’re happy to skip other splurges - in which case, order your favourite cocktail and enjoy it.
‘If you love wine, choose a fine one and sip it and savour. It’s a good idea to also order a mineral water with lime to sip on and keep thirst at bay, especially if a meal is heavily seasoned.’
Make vegetables your secret weapon
‘Think of vegetables as the solid base of your personal food pyramid,’ Michele advises.
‘Vegetable sides are a great choice when dining out – restaurants know how to make them delicious.
‘When vegetables are the staple of most meals you get more nutrients and fibre for fewer calories. Plus they’re filling and can crowd out less valuable calories. Best of all, by upping the veggie intake you’ll have leeway to enjoy favourite treats without guilt.’
Taste before you add
‘Get into the habit of asking for sauces, gravies, dressings, even cream or ice cream, on the side,’ the expert suggests.
‘Otherwise, you might be adding a heap of calories you simply don’t want or need, purely out of habit. Instead, always taste first, or add only a little to start with.
‘Find the amount you need for the best taste and the most dining pleasure.’
Be discerning about dessert
‘Don't automatically assume you want dessert,’ Michele says.
‘Only order dessert if there’s something you love on the menu. If not, consider an espresso with a single delicious petit four, or split a cheese plate with your date, or simply savour the last of your wine and enjoy the company.’
She suggests that if you do order dessert, don’t feel you have to see it through to the bitter end.
‘If it’s magnificent and filling you with pleasure - enjoy! But if it’s so-so, then push it away and turn your attention to your companions and the last of your wine.’
Stop and listen
‘You don’t have to clean your plate - this is why the dishwasher was invented,’ Michele says.
‘If you’ve had enough food then simply leave the rest. If you like, ask for a doggie bag but don’t keep eating out of habit or childhood guilt.
‘If you’re dining with others who are still eating, signal to yourself that you’re finished, so you aren’t tempted to keep picking.
‘Place a napkin over your plate so the leftovers don’t try to make eye contact. Push the basket of fries toward the other diners and place your glass in front of you like a tiny crystal shield.
‘Discreetly place a mint in your mouth to change taste gears. Visit the restroom to give yourself a moment to reset. And then, turn your attention to a key part of what makes dining out such a pleasure: Your companions.’