Skip to content

Eating out


Whether it’s posh nosh or a quick sandwich lunch, eating out is becoming the norm for many people.

Surveys show that we eat up to a quarter of our calories outside of our home each day. Here are 12 pointers to help you find your way to the healthiest options on the menu.

  • Don’t arrive starving - Eat a small, healthy snack a couple of hours before you go to make sure you are not tempted to eat everything in sight.
  • Avoid the nibbles - At the beginning of a meal, when you are hungry, it’s very easy to fill up on the bread, poppadoms, tortilla chips, etc. Try to avoid these extras.
  • Fill up on low-fat foods first - Make sure your starter is something light, like soup or salad. That way, there is a good chance that you won’t eat too much later.
  • Ask - Don’t be afraid to ask for sauces and dressing on the side, vegetables to be served without butter, or extra vegetables or salad  instead of chips. Most places are used to this.
  • Watch the fats -
    • Go for chicken or fish dishes over fattier meat dishes.
    • Avoid creamy sauces in favour of tomato- or yogurt-based sauces.
    • Choose baked or boiled potatoes over chips, and boiled rice over egg-fried rice.
    • Ask for foods that are grilled or baked instead of fried.
    • Go for stir-fried dishes, not deep–fried ones.
  • Try something you might not cook at home - Healthy options like bean and lentil dishes are delicious, particularly in Indian restaurants.
  • Go fish - Restaurants often have very good access to a variety of fresh fish, Japanese restaurants especially.  So tuck in to something fishy, especially oily fish such as tuna, salmon or mackerel.
  • Don’t add salt - Most restaurants add more than enough salt in cooking.
  • Eat slowly - Enjoy your meal and the company. Give your body time to give you the signal that you are satisfied.
  • You don’t have to clean your plate - Cover the remaining food with your napkin if you like – or ask for a doggy bag.
  • Share - Main course portions are often quite big – how about sharing a main course meat dish and ordering extra vegetables? If you eat dessert, why not order one portion with several spoons?
  • Drink to your health - Enjoy your glass or two of beer or wine, and sip water with your drink to reduce your alcohol intake.

Whatever type of food you like to eat, we have the low-down on the healthiest choices - and where it’s best to go easy.


FAQ's

  • Cafés

    How many calories in your favourite cup of tea or coffee?

    How we’ve grown to love our cafés and coffee shops with a selection of teas and coffees and tasty treats. A cup of black coffee or tea with a dash of milk contains very few calories but did you know that many fancier coffees such as mochas can contain almost 300kcal. Then add a sweet treat and suddenly we are consuming more calories than we do at dinner time.

    Many coffees have added sugar, syrups and flavourings. But there is good news - there are plenty of lower calorie options on the menu:

    • Opt for black coffee or tea with a splash of milk for a low calorie option.
    • Order the smallest size available.
    • If you are having a latte or milk based coffee go for a ‘skinny’ version and treat it as a snack.
    • Skip the added extras – syrups and cream will add extra calories.
    • If you’re having a treat either go for a bite-sized serving or share.

    Check the café's website or in-store nutrition information for more information on your favourite tea and coffee.

    How many calories in your favourite coffee?

      Insomnia Costa Starbucks McDonalds
      Whole milk   Whole milk (skimmed) Whole milk (semi-skimmed) Semi-skimmed
    Americano (black) 10 6 11  
    Cappucino 66 106 (63) 116 (97) 98
    Caramel latte 213 154 (98) 192 (163)  
    English breakfast tea (without milk)   3 0  
    Espresso single 5   6  
    Flat white 86 148 (80) 119 130
    Hot chocolate 412 205 (152) 348 (307) 276
    Hot chocolate with marshmallows and whipped cream   326 (276)    
    Latte 135 128 (70) 172 (143) 125
    Mocha   217 (155) 269 (248) 251
    Tea (with milk)       12

    Cold drinks

     

    Insomnia

    Costa

    Starbucks

    McDonalds

    Chocolate cream frappacino     247 (243)  
    Coffee frappacino     170 (157)  
    Iced cappuccino     100 (77)  
    Iced latte  100 152 (94) 100 (77)  
    Iced peach tea 73 88    

    Sweet treats

      Insomnia Costa Starbucks McDonalds
    Blueberry muffin 484 452 424 498
    Carrot cake 322 593 434 615
    Chocolate brownie 391 373 303  
    Chocolate muffin 492 476 481 658
    Chocolate twist   345 296 358
    Croissant 406 285 279 238
    Pain au chocolat 380      
    Scone 352 313 252 338

    Examples

      Insomnia Costa Starbucks McDonalds
    Americano & blueberry muffin 494 458 435  
    Chai latte & carrot cake 584 860    
    Flat white & scone 438 461 371 468
    Hot chocolate & chocolate brownie 803 578 651  

    Please note information is based on tall/primo (340ml) where applicable. The information was correct on the 23 May, 2017.

    Sources

  • Sandwiches

    Top tips

    • Watch your bread! Ask for sandwiches to be made on two slices of bread from a regular sliced pan (deli slices of bread can be twice as thick as regular slices). Go for wholegrain bread whenever you can. Rolls and baguettes can be very heavy - wraps are a lighter option
    • Go for ‘low-fat’, ‘low-calorie’ or ‘healthy option’ sandwiches where you can
    • Many sandwiches, rolls and salads contain hidden ingredients. Check the label for the calorie, fat and salt contents so that you’re not misled
    • The ultimate healthy sandwich is made from wholegrain bread, lean meat, poultry or fish, plenty of salad vegetables and a tablespoon of low-fat dressing
    • If you put spread or mayonnaise onto your bread slices, then try not to have any more mayonnaise or dressing in the sandwich filling
    • Have some fruit or a low-fat yoghurt after your sandwich for a really tasty lunch

    Healthy choices

    Sandwiches

    • Chicken or turkey breast without skin
    • Roast beef or lean ham
    • Tuna, prawn, salmon or crab meat without mayonnaise
    • Egg, Quorn slices, couscous or tofu wraps
    • Low-fat cheese or cottage cheese
    • Low-fat dressing, low-fat spread, low-fat mayonnaise, mustard or ketchup
    • Extra salad for fibre and bulk
    • Wholegrain bread, granary bread, pita bread or tortilla wraps

    Salads

    • Tomato-based salad
    • Low-fat coleslaw
    • Low-fat hummus, salsa or yoghurt dips with freshly cut vegetables
    • Pasta, rice or noodles with salad
    • Sushi


    Extras, treats & snacks:

    • Broth type soups
    • Low-fat yoghurt or fromage frais
    • Probiotic drinks or yoghurts
    • Fruit, fruit salad
    • Low-calorie cereal bars
    • Rice cakes
    • Low-fat rice pudding or custard
    • Yoghurt-based smoothies*
    • Flavoured water or diet drinks*
    • Unsweetened fruit juice*
    • Low-fat lattes or cappuccinos

    *Best consumed at mealtimes to protect your teeth

    Where to go easy…

    Sandwiches

    • Bacon, sausage, cheese, coleslaw or a mixture of these
    • Processed meats such as salami, pepperoni or corned beef
    • Any meat with skin or visible fat
    • Mayonnaise, oil-based dressings, butter or full-fat margarine
    • Large rolls, white bread, cheese baguettes or oily breads like focaccia
    • Crumpets, croissants, muffins or stuffed breads

    Salads

    • Potato salad or coleslaw
    • Cheese
    • Croutons

    Extras, treats & snacks

    • Chocolate bars (if you must, go for treat-sized bars or share!)
    • Cream or ice-cream desserts
    • Cakes, buns or tarts
    • Full-fat custard or puddings
    • Sweets, toffees, crisps
    • Muffins, Danishes, biscuits
    • Fizzy drinks, milkshakes, cream-based coffees
  • Barbeque

    Top tips

    • Go for lean cuts of meat instead of burgers and sausages. Choose chicken, turkey, fish, beef or pork in place of fatty meats
    • Cut off any fat you can see on the meat before cooking. Keep food a good distance from the coals to allow fat to melt and drip away
    • Try barbequed sliced vegetables or skewered vegetable kebabs
    • Barbeque oily fish like mackerel, tuna or salmon instead of red meat
    • Baste food with low-fat, low-salt tasty marinades instead of oil. The food will be full of flavour without any added fat or salt.
    • Put everything you are going to eat on one plate - then walk away from the food! Don’t be tempted to linger at the barbeque and graze. For crispy-skinned, moist potatoes - microwave the potatoes for a few minutes, then wrap in tin foil and place on the edge of the coals

    Healthy choices

    • Chicken or turkey without skin
    • Oily and white fish
    • Lean red meat such as pork or steak (fat cut off)
    • Barbequed vegetables, kebabs made from cherry tomatoes, courgette chunks, onions, aubergine, peppers and mushrooms
    • Fresh salads with low-fat salad dressings
    • Vegetable sticks with hummus or yoghurt-based dips

    Foods to avoid

    • Too much fatty red meat, burgers or sausages
    • Mayonnaise-rich salads, full-fat salad dressings
    • Buttery garlic bread
    • Chips, mayonnaise-based dips
  • Thai

    Top tips

    • Go for salads, hot, clear soups, stir-fries with loads of veggies
    • Dressings aren’t as rich or creamy as often seen in Western cookery but should still be served on the side
    • Steer clear of sticky, sweet desserts.  Instead, try a refreshing tea for afters
    • Peanut, satay and coconut sauces are all very rich
    • Some of the starters are usually deep-fried – don’t be afraid to ask your waiter for some healthier options

    Healthy choices

    Starters

    • Spicy chicken (larb gai) or spicy mushrooms (larb hed)
    • Salads with cucumber (yum tang kwa), beans and bean sprouts (yum wun sen), cabbage, prawns and thin strips of meat and poultry
    • Hot, clear soups with chicken (tom yam gai) or prawns (tom yum gung)

    Main courses

    • Quick cooking and healthy ingredients make stir-fries very healthy – try  chicken (gai), prawns (gung) or beef (neur)

    Rice and noodles

    • Steamed or rapidly stir-fried noodle dishes with lots of veg, white meat or fish, and aromatics
    • Steamed rice

    Desserts

    • Finish with a refreshing tea

    Where to go easy…

    • Deep-fried starters like egg rolls (po pia tod), spring rolls (paw pia sod) or fried tofu (tao hu tod)
    • Soups based on coconut milk, like chicken coconut soup (kai tom kha); soups with deep-fried wontons (keow nam)
    • Dishes based on peanut sauce (satay)
    • Deep-fried egg noodles (mee krob)
    • Thai curries, like Thai green curry (gaeng khiad wan), which are often based on coconut or peanuts
    • Sticky, coconut-based rice desserts
  • Mexican

    Top tips

    • Enjoy the salsa served before your meal, but avoid the deep-fried corn tortilla chips - ask for a flour tortilla instead
    • Ask for soured cream and guacamole to be served on the side. You could also ask for natural yoghurt instead of soured cream
    • Ask for just a little cheese in your meal
    • Go for lean meat, chicken and bean dishes

    Healthy choices

    Starters

    • Black bean soup
    • Gazpacho
    • Tostada

    Main courses 

    • Soft or flour tortillas
    • Tostadas, burritos, soft tacos, enchiladas, tamales and fajitas without extra soured cream, cheese or guacamole
    • Strips of spicy chicken or beef
    • Steamed tamales or corn tortillas filled with chicken or beans

    Side orders

    • Yellow, mexican or plain rice
    • Pico de gallo
    • Salsa
    • Flour tortillas
    • Black beans

    Salads

    • Mexican salad without cheese

    Desserts

    • Fruit flan

    Where to go easy…

    • Extra servings of soured cream, guacamole, re-fried beans or cheese
    • Deep-fried corn tortilla chips
    • Chimi-changas (fried filled tortillas)
    • Flauta (deep-fried chicken wings or tortilla fillings)
  • Japanese

    Top tips

    • Don't be afraid to ask what a Japanese name means and how food is cooked
    • Ask if your food can be grilled instead of fried
    • Enjoy the variety of fresh and raw fish, especially oily fish such as tuna and salmon which are rich in beneficial fatty acids
    • Go for dishes that are grilled (yakimono), steamed (mushi) or stewed (nabe) and avoid the many deep-fried options
    • Go for soft ramen noodles instead of teppan-fried or yaki soba noodles

    Healthy choices

    • Starters and side orders
    • Sashimi, sushi, norimaki and temaki
    • Grilled dumplings (gyoza)
    • Steamed soya beans (edamame)
    • Miso soup and sui
    • Japanese-style sticky rice

    Main courses

    • Teriyaki and yakitori dishes
    • Yosenabe (seafood stew)
    • Sukiyaki (beef)
    • Shabu-shabu (thin sliced beef with mushrooms and other vegetables)
    • Buta shoga-yaki (thin sliced ginger pork)
    • Ramen noodles
    • Rice and vegetable dishes such as cha han

    Where to go easy…

    • Tempura (battered and deep-fried vegetables or shellfish)
    • Fried dumplings
    • Deep-fried fish, noodles (yaki soba), meat or tofu
  • Italian

    Top tips

    • Enjoy a few olives before your meal but don't over-indulge.
    • Go easy on the bread basket
    • Ask for salad dressing (or oil and vinegar) to be served on the side. This way you can add what you need
    • Go easy on salami, pepperoni, cured meats, mozzarella and parmesan cheese, creamy or cheese-based sauces and rich salad dressings
    • Instead, go for delicious tomato-based pasta sauces, grilled meat, seafood, chicken or veal If you just can't resist dessert – share with a friend!

    Healthy choices

    Starters

    • Marinated seafood, marinated or baked mushrooms and vegetables
    • Steamed or baked shellfish
    • Minestrone, vegetable or lentil soup

    Salads and side orders

    • Seafood, chicken, green salads with dressing on the side

    Main courses

    • Veal, chicken or seafood in lemon or wine sauces, like Picatta or Cacciatore
    • Primavera dishes
    • Grilled fish

    Pasta

    • Tomato-based sauces such as Arrabiata
    • Marinara sauces
    • Pasta Primavera

    Pizza

    • Vegetable toppings like spinach, onions, tomatoes, garlic, peppers and herbs
    • Seafood or Marinara
    • Chicken

    Dessert

    • Fresh fruit or fruit salad

    Beverages

    • Easy on the wine! Try a sparkling mineral water with lemon instead

    Where to go easy...

    Starters

    • Cheese-covered crostini and brusetta
    • Parma ham and salami antipasti

    Salads and side orders

    • Ceaser salad or other salads with bacon, parmesan cheese, olives or deep-fried croutons Garlic Bread Sauteed or deep fried mushrooms or onions

    Pasta

    • Creamy or cheese-based sauces such as carbonara
    • Cheese tortellini or ravioli
    • Salami, pepperoni or cured meats like Parma ham and prosciutto Pizza
    • Extra cheese or processed meat toppings

    Desserts

    • Rich, creamy desserts like tiramisu
  • Indian

    Top tips

    • Enjoy a little of the poppadum and chutney appetizers but avoid deep-fried snacks
    • Ask for foods that are grilled or baked instead of fried
    • Go for chicken, seafood or vegetarian dishes instead of lamb, which can be very fatty
    • Enjoy the variety of vegetarian, bean and lentil dishes available
    • Go for tomato or yoghurt based sauces instead of rich creamy or nut sauces - ask if you're not sure
    • Main course portions are often quite big – why not share a main course meat dish and order an extra portion of vegetables?

    Healthy choices

    Starters

    • Lentil, mulligatawny or tomato soups
    • Grilled kebabs
    • Poppadums or bread with chutney and relishes (Aloo Papri Chaat)

    Main courses

    • Yoghurt or tomato based sauces
    • Chicken or prawn dishes
    • Dishes flavoured with ginger, garlic, chilli or coriander
    • Vegetarian dishes such as Aloo Channa, Gobi Aloo, Dal and Bhaingan Bharta
    • Tandoori dishes (baked in a tandoor)

    Side orders

    • Boiled rice
    • Chapati and plain naan bread
    • Raita (yoghurt and cucumber dip) with poppadums
    • Chutneys
    • Onion and chilli salads

    Desserts

    • Fruit sorbet
    • Kheer (rice pudding with fruit)

    Where to go easy…

    Starters

    • Deep-fried pakora, bhaji and samosas
    • Paneer (fried cheese)

    Main courses

    • Cream, nut and coconut sauces
    • Ghee (butter) and lamb dishes

    Side orders

    • Stuffed or butter naan breads such as Peshawari, Paratha or Lachhedar
    • Pilau or fried rice

    Desserts

    • Patisa (pastry with pistachio nuts)
    • Kulfi (milk and pistachio ice-cream)
    • Galab Jamun (deep-fried milk dough with syrup)
  • Chinese

    Top tips

    • Don’t ask for prawn crackers or rice crackers before your meal
    • Ask for your meal to be prepared without MSG (monosodium glutamate - an artificial flavour enhancer that has a lot of sodium)
    • Go for boiled or steamed rice. Avoid egg-fried rice
    • Go for stir-fried dishes, not deep–fried ones. Ask for just a small amount of oil to be used
    • Don’t add salt to your food. A little light soy sauce will add lots of extra flavour
    • Main course portions can be big – why not share a main course meat dish and order an extra serving of vegetables?

    Healthy choices

    Starters

    • Clear broths like wanton, chicken & sweet corn and hot & sour soups
    • Grilled seafood and shellfish

    Main courses

    • Steamed, roast or stir-fried chicken, pork, fillet steak or seafood
    • Stir-fried vegetable dishes
    • Bean sauces such as yellow bean or black bean sauce, oyster sauce, ginger and hoisin or plum sauce

    Side orders

    • Steamed or boiled rice or noodles
    • Bean curd or tofu
    • Extra vegetables including snow peas, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, string beans, bean sprouts, bok choy, mushrooms and Chinese broccoli
    • Desserts Fresh fruit platter
    • Rice cakes
    • Green tea

    Where to go easy…

    Starters

    • Deep-fried parcels such as spring rolls, wantons, sesame toasts and dumplings

    Main courses

    • Duck, especially with skin
    • Deep-fried and battered chicken, pork or prawns
    • Nut-based sauces such as satay (peanut) or cashew nut sauces

    Side orders

    • Fried rice and deep-fried or crispy noodles
    • Prawn crackers

    Desserts

    • Banana or pineapple fritters
    • Toffee apples
    • Fried ice-cream

Related pages


Safefood Logo

Sign up for our latest healthy eating and recipe updates.

Safefood logo

The site content is redirecting to the NI version.

Confirm