It’s your friend’s party and your new, slimmer self seems to be stealing the show, thanks to a strict diet and exercise regime. You are atop cloud nine, enjoying the appreciative glances when disaster strikes—the steward hands you the menu. You stare at it and wonder: Butter chicken or kadai chicken? Dal makhani or dal fry? Roomali roti or naan? Gulab jamun or ice cream? As you consider all the yummy options, you wish that life was simpler and didn’t involve sacrifices.
Don’t lose heart. Life is simpler than you think. You don’t need to have your dietitian on ‘speed dial’ everytime you eat out. Being conscious of your diet is simply a matter of making the right choices, sticking to portion sizes and most importantly, the frequency.

Before learning to pick out healthy options, first familiarise yourself with the terms used in menus. This is important, as once you are familiar with the cooking terminology, choosing the dishes will become joy. To make it easy to remember, let me colour code terms as Red [Alarm Bells] and Green [Go for it]:

Deep Fried: You know this one. The food is cooked submerged in hot oil, hence making it full of calories. Deep fried items can be either ‘breaded’ [coated with flour, egg whites and bread crumbs], dipped in a batter [like besan or maida] or coated with masala and then lightly dusted with flour before frying.

Creamy base/gravy: This includes the malais and makhanis on the menu. The creaminess comes from generous use of cream, butter, cheese, maida [refined flour] or cashew paste.

Crispy: Again a method in which the food is fried till it is crunchy.

Dressings: Used in salads, these can make the so called ‘healthy dish’ a high calorie one. The dressings to stay away from are the Thousand Island, French, Ranch, Mayonnaise and Caesar.

Steamed: This method of cooking uses the heat from the steam to cook the food. Since no oil or fat is used, it is the perfect choice for anyone on a diet.
Poached: The food is cooked by immersing it in hot water, curry or stock.

Grilled: Food cooked on a grill over the source of heat. In most cases, grilled foods use the bare minimum of fats or oils during the cooking process.

Baked: Food is cooked in an oven. Proceed with caution when ordering baked foods however, as many baked dishes come loaded with butter, cheese or flour-based sauces.

Tandoori: Food baked in a traditional Indian oven.

Stir-fried: Food cooked using high heat with very little oil and tossed or stirred continuously to avoid burning.

Tomato based curries/gravies/sauces: Insist on ‘no butter’ or cream to be added to these as a garnish.

Stick to your diet

Here are a few easy ways to stick to your diet and enjoy a night out:

  • Avoid buffets when possible. Not only do buffets offer too many tempting options at arm’s length but they also prove very difficult when it comes to portion control. Better instead to order à la carte and choose exactly what you want to eat.
  • Start your order with a clear soup. This tends to fill up your stomach, making it easier to stick to portion sizes during the main course.
  • Ask for water. Instead of juices, energy drinks or mocktails—water is nature’s best zero calorie drink.
  • Choose your appetizers carefully. Order ones that are preferably protein based [like paneer, chicken, tofu or fish]. Protein foods again tend to bring about a feeling of satiety.
  • Make sure the steward understands your dietary restrictions: Most restaurants now recognise the need to please the increasing number of ‘health conscious’ clientele.
  • Always order salads. The extra fibre will help in reducing your appetite for the main course.
  • Stick to eating small portions. Don’t try to polish off the entire bowl/plate of what you have ordered.
  • Order less to start with. Most restaurants serve fairly large helpings, which can be shared. Find out the serving size and mentally divide them with the number of diners with you.
  • Give into your cravings. A nibble here and a piece there [or even a spoonful of that sinful dessert!] isn’t going to wreck your diet.

For all you die hard ‘diet nuts’ or ‘health freaks’ interested in ordering and picking out healthy foods from the menu, here’s what you need to mention before placing your order and also some healthy options to pick.

Indian Food

Stress on the fact that the food should be made with no oil, butter, ghee or malai and chances are that instead of the food floating in a bed of oil, it’ll be made with less oil.

Soups, starters and appetizers: Tomato soups, Mulligatawny soup [or simply pepper rasam] or dal shorba, tandoori items, kebabs [shashlik] are usually a safe bet for starters, instead of Chicken 65, fried kebabs and pakodas.

Main course: Plain rice or rotis instead of the biryanis, naans or roomali rotis.

Side dish: Dal tadka, vegetables, pulses or chicken/ fish cooked in a tomato based curry [Ask the steward if it isn’t specified in the menu].

Chinese Food

Authentic Chinese food is usually low-fat, bland and mostly healthy. Unfortunately, the Indian version can be quite the opposite—oily, spicy and unhealthy. Again, make sure you ask for food to be cooked with ‘no oil’.

Soups and starters: Sweet and sour soups, hot and sour soups, egg drop soups or any non-creamy soups are good. Steamed momos are an excellent option instead of the fried wantons, manchurians, and chicken lollipops/drums of heaven.

Main course: Noodles or fried rice made with less oil and extra vegetables.

Side dish: Stir-fried dishes with extra veggies.

European/Continental food

Avoid creamy and cheesy dishes.

Soups and starters: Any clear soups or minestrone. For starters, anything grilled is a better option than the fritters.

Main Dish: Pastas in tomato sauce instead of white sauce, grilled sizzlers instead of cheesy baked dishes, and grilled chicken/fish instead of fried versions.

Sides: Grilled/steamed vegetables instead of mashed potatoes/French fries.

Healthy options are not always be possible to find but sensible eating helps. With the correct choices, you can continue on your weight loss journey and remain an inspiration for people who give up too easily.

Bon Appétit!!

This was first published in the April 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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