Ah, the eternal dilemma – you’re trying to be as healthy as possible, but you don’t want to miss out on social gatherings at restaurants (or just sit there picking at a lettuce leaf). Whilst some people choose to use restaurant trips as an occasion for their weekly ‘cheat meal’, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. I’m a huge fan of going out to dinner, especially as I live in a large city – it’s fun, sociable and easy. I also happen to be a health and fitness nerd! Here are some of my top picks for chain restaurants to visit if you’re following a healthy lifestyle. Plus, don’t forget to check out my bonus advice at the bottom!
Note: Ok, so preparing your own meals will always be healthier, but if you’re going to go out I think these are some pretty good options! I talk a lot about calories in this post, because it’s a quick reference point – I always try to opt for healthy dishes that include veggies and other nutritious ingredients.
The awesome thing about Pizza Express is that, well, most people love pizza! Even if they don’t they’re still bound to find something in pasta or fancy salad form on the menu. This Italian eatery has been my favourite chain restaurant for years, and there are a couple of fabulous options I love to go for each time. If you want to enjoy your favourite pizza with far fewer calories, why not opt for one of the Leggera choices? Some of the middle is replaced with salad, and each one is under 500 calories. There are also Leggera salads, like the Superfood Salad which is under 300 calories, and desserts too! This means you can still pack the rest of your day full of the nutritious foods you otherwise would without stressing about blowing your healthy eating streak come dinnertime.
As someone who likes a healthy, high-carb diet, Wagamama is great for me. I don’t shy away from the rice and noodle dishes, as although sometimes the calorie count seems a little higher, you know those calories are coming from things like the brown rice, tofu, vegetables and eggs. One of my favourite dishes is the Yasai Yaki Soba, which contains around 664 calories – if you’ve eaten clean all day long, I don’t think there’s anything to feel guilty about during a Wagamama trip picking a dish like this. Another thing I love about Wagamama is the free green tea option on the dessert/coffee menu – if everyone else is ordering cake but you’re satisfied from your filling noodle dish, you can always pick the green tea and still feel like you’re rounding off your dining experience.
So here’s the thing with Nando’s – you can pretty much make it as healthy or unhealthy as you like. You could choose the biggest burger with ALL the chips, or you could go for a wrap with sweetcorn and salad. As a vegetarian I can’t speak for the deliciousness of the chicken (though as pretty much every meat-eater in the country could confirm, I’m guessing it’s good) but I really enjoy the veggie options. For example, the Veggie Pitta plus corn on the cob and salad comes out at around 55o calories. Carnivores, the Grilled Chicken Burger with the same two sides adds up to just 479 calories. It just goes to show that you really can mix and match your options to fit in with your diet plan, and your companions!
If I’m ever unsure about how hungry I actually am, or fancy a little of a few different things, Yo! Sushi is always my port of call. They have loads of veggie options, and although some of those are not necessarily on my health radar (think the super tempting and very delicious Katsu Curries) I know that I could potentially mix them amongst lower-calories/lower-fat options and still enjoy just a taste. Plus, every dish is labelled with its calorific value! I’m obsessed with the Vegetable Gyoza (111 calories), Vegetable Tempura (144 calories) and the incomparable Avocado Maki Sushi (131 calories). The dishes I’ve listed aren’t even the lowest kcal options! A real winner all round.
This pub chain has become hugely popular over the last few years, with new franchises popping up all over the place. My dad likes to pop into Wetherspoons, and I’ve been in with him on a few occasions to be met with some really decent healthy food options. On their website, I calculated 90 dishes under 500 calories – two of the best I’ve tried are the Pasta Pomodoro at 401 calories, Sweet Chilli Egg Noodles at 407 calories. Wetherspoon’s is the kind of place you know will always be around, and is great for a quick, cheap and filling meal with loads of low-cal options.
And now for some of my general tips on how to be healthy whilst dining out!
- You can always ask the restaurant if they can make little changes to your dish. Leaving out the extra cheese toppings, swapping chips for a side salad, opting for the low-cal version of their house dressing…the list goes on!
- Be sensible about it. You know that the deep-fried options will always be less healthy than grilled or steamed dishes, and that you won’t thank yourself for cramming in a dessert when you’re already super full. Really think about how hungry you are, rather than getting blinded by the excitement of going out to dinner.
- If everyone else is going for starters, don’t feel you have to give in if you don’t fancy one yourself. Most of the time, I suggest getting some olives or similar for the table and enjoying a few of those rather than going all-out on an appetiser I’m not even fussed about.
- Don’t forget to treat yourself every now and again! Sometimes I go for both Peri Chips AND Spicy Rice as my Nando’s side dishes, or have the full-sized Ramana Padana pizza at Pizza Express – I’d go crazy if I didn’t indulge once in a while. I make up for it by making healthy choices the majority of the time, and, of course, working out!
So there’s my handy little guide for you. This one is UK-specific, but I’d love to do some more regional posts and perhaps even round-ups of the healthy eateries I visit when in other countries too! Let me know if you’d like to see more posts like this.