For most of us, eating out in a restaurant is one of life’s greatest pleasures. We know that dining out is an important route to connecting socially, opening us up to new foods and conversations, plus giving us a much-needed break from cooking. But, despite the fact that many restaurants offer healthy options, research shows that many of us tend to choose poorly when dining out, which will negatively affect our health, particularly if done often (such as on holidays). Living with arthritis is challenging, but we know that incorporating self-management techniques, such as healthy eating and exercise, can make a huge difference.  

We’re here to help you avoid those restaurant pitfalls, and to live the best life you can. Follow our no-nonsense guide that will steer you towards choices that aren’t only healthier, but also just as tasty. It doesn’t have to be complicated – put these simple suggestions in place and we guarantee you that you’ll leave the restaurant feeling satisfied and energised every time! 

  1. Avoid Arriving Hungry: this seems like a no-brainer, right? Yet, you’d be amazed how many people purposefully restrict their food all day, so that they ‘enjoy’ their meal that evening. Arriving hungry will just make it much more difficult to make healthy decisions. Our brains are just like our cavemen/women ancestors, so if we’re low in energy, we’ll automatically reach for the higher fat or sugar options. Instead, make sure to have a healthy snack 2-3 hours before your meal – choose things like a small handful of nuts, apple slices with peanut butter, Greek yoghurt with fresh fruit, a boiled egg or some carrot sticks with hummus.  
  2. Wave the Bread Basket away: it’s hard to do but, once you get into the habit (especially while on holidays), it’ll become second nature, and your waistline will thank you for it! Saying ‘no’ to the bread basket (or the poppadoms/tortilla chips or prawn crackers) is the best way to start (and enjoy) your meal out, meaning you’ll have plenty of room left for your starter and main (if having both, which you can!). If you’re hungry and feel deprived while your eating partner enjoys the bread, consider ordering a bowl of olives to munch on. 
  3. Take Back Control: rather than leave it up to the restaurant, YOU decide how much you’ll eat by following your hunger cues. A simple trick to follow is to section off a part of your plate that you imagine is sufficient. The rest can be saved for a doggy bag you can take home and eat for lunch the next day (purse-friendly too!). Restaurant portions are increasing over time, so we shouldn’t trust others to decide what a healthy portion is on our behalf. Listen to your body and stop eating when you are satisfied, even if there’s food still on your plate. You can also ask for half portions, or two starters – you are paying, so you get to choose! 
  4. Go Fish: choosing a fish dish is one of the best ways to keep your healthy eating habits on track. Mediterranean countries offer an array of delicious fish dishes, often served with filling vegetables on the side. Oily fish, such as tuna, salmon, mackerel or sardines, are jam-packed full of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to be naturally anti-inflammatory and may offer protection of the joints. Omega-3s may also help reduce the risk of heart disease (offering positive effects on both cholesterol and blood pressure) AND are required for optimum cognitive development and function. 
  5. Slow it Down: did you know that it takes about 15-20 minutes for your brain to signal to your stomach that you’ve eaten enough? Savour your food and slow it all down for the best chances to tune into this signal. Put your knife and fork down in between bites and enjoy the conversation and your surroundings. Eating out isn’t just about the food – it’s about the whole experience, so focus on that, as well as your tasty food. 
  6. Fibre First: eat like the French, by starting with a salad (or soup). Research shows that we eat less calories by starting a meal with salad. But did you also know that about 80 per cent of Irish people don’t eat enough fibre? In addition to vegetables and fruit, don’t forget that pulses (such as beans and lentils), nuts and seeds and wholegrains all count towards your daily intake. Opt for wholegrains, such as quinoa or brown rice or pasta, and ask for extra vegetables (worth paying extra for). If you’re tempted to eat French fries, ask for a baked potato or generous salad instead – it may seem hard at the time, but you’ll feel all the better for it after your meal. 
  7. Step Outside the Comfort Zone: why not use the opportunity to try something that you might not cook yourself at home? For instance, if you’ve always wanted to try more vegetarian dishes, then opt for a lentil dahl or a vegetarian curry, both of which are not only delicious, but also filling! A good way to do this is to plan in advance. Check out the restaurant’s menus online so you can look forward to a delicious meal that will enliven your palate, but also one that will help you stay on track with healthy eating.  
  8. Aim to be Your Assertive Self: last, but not least, remember that being assertive is part of managing your own health. This is crucial for anyone living with arthritis. You are paying the bill, so that means you have every right to ask for alternatives, or to ask questions about how your food is cooked (for instance, you can request that the chef grills, rather than fries your fish or chicken). Most restaurants will cooperate with their customers to serve them the food they are looking for, so don’t hold back in putting in requests, such asking for dressing on the side, or for the chef to hold back on salting your food too much (which can add to bloating).   
  9. Watch the Booze: keeping alcohol drinks to just one or two with your meal will make all the difference to your calorie (and sugar) intake. Drink plenty of water throughout your meal, but also before your meal (studies show that people who drink 500 mls of water half an hour before a meal tend to consume fewer calories than those who don’t). Think about downsizing the size of your drink to save calories, for instance, by ordering a small rather than large glass of wine. A large glass of red wine (around 250 mls) can add as much as 280 calories to your meal, which is the same as a chocolate bar. Add two and you can see how the hidden calories sneak upwards.  
  10. Finish off Well: if you love dessert, then you can treat yourself, but just choose wisely. Sharing a dessert is a good idea, and fruit-based desserts or sorbets are among the lighter options. Another clever trick is to bring along some 70 per cent dark chocolate in your handbag or pocket, and have a few squares alongside a cappuccino or herbal tea to finish your meal off in style.  

We hope you now feel that, with just a little planning and foresight, making better choices when dining out doesn’t need to be difficult or complicated at all.  

Enjoy the experience...Bon Appetit! 

For more tips on healthy eating, visit our website and the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute INDI