Eating out AND sticking to a heart healthy diet – is it possible?

Eating out is a way of life for many people, but it can be a challenge for people who are trying to eat healthily. During my Healthy Hearties programmes and beyond, I always teach everyone that when faced with eating out, you must feel confident about the food choices you are making. It doesn’t always have to be a ‘blow out’. You also shouldn’t have to avoid social events and definitely shouldn’t fear that you will never be able to enjoy pasta or dessert again (although they DEFINITELY need to be a treat).

The key is, that you are making the HEALTHY choice 80- 90% of the time so that when you do have a treat, it doesn’t undo all the hard work that you’ve done. I always recommend that people treat themselves to 1 or 2 ‘cheat meals’ each week – this is something to look forward to that may not be particularly healthy. For some this may be a meal out, for others it’s a bar of chocolate. By keeping it to 1-2 meals per week means that you get the best of both worlds.

After a heart attack or surgery, you may find yourself veering between being SUPER healthy and fearing certain foods, to saying ‘who cares, I can eat what I want as life is short’. Both sides aren’t WRONG, however it is best to have a good balance. Your heart needs nutrients and energy and needs to be fed accordingly. Vegetables contain the most micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Biscuits and icecream the least. If it’s from nature and it’s brightly coloured, it’s more than likely good for your heart. If it comes in a packet or is beige in colour, it’s probably not!

Use your common sense when eating out – the reason restaurant food often tastes so good is the amount of oil/butter/salt used. This isn’t necessarily a problem if you only eat out once or twice a month. But if it’s once or more a week, you need to be picking the best possible foods that don’t leave you feeling bloated, unhappy and lacking in energy the next day.

So here are my tips for staying healthy when you’re eating out. Let me know any other tips that you have – pop them in the comments below.

Be prepared

  • Drink a large glass of water before you go out and as soon as you arrive. If you are dehydrated you are more likely to drink more alcohol and make unhealthy choices.
  • If you can, select a restaurant that offers healthy choices. Actually, most restaurants and even pubs now offer a healthy option these days.
  • Do not drink alcohol before eating as this will increase your appetite.
  • Eat smaller portions than usual during other meals during the day when you plan to eat out in the evening.
  • Eat a small, healthy snack before you go eg handful of nuts, a banana or apple so that you aren’t ravenous when you sit down to eat.
  • For parties or dinner parties, bring a healthy dish to share with others eg large salad, crustless quiche, roasted Mediterranean vegetables.

Ask for what you want

round black plate with silver steel bread knife
Ask for meat and veggies and a jug of water. Still tasty!
  • Don’t be shy – ask for what you want. If there is a chicken and vegetable dish but it comes with rice – ask them to leave the rice out.
  • Ask the waiter to bring a large jug of water to the table. Try to drink water regularly throughout the night. If you are drinking alcohol, have a glass of water between every alcoholic drink.
  • Say no to the bread basket – you will eat it mindlessly even if it’s not that tasty!
  • Be firm with your choices – don’t worry about what the others are ordering. When you are all eating no one will notice!
  • If everyone is ordering a starter and a main, ask for a starter size portion for your main meal i.e. have 2 starters.
  • Look for fish dishes, chicken, lean meats and vegetarian options. Examples of healthy dishes include grilled fish, whole fish, spatchcock chicken, veal, liver, nut roast, mussels, prawn dishes etc.
  • Choose a dish with vegetables or order a large side serving of extra veg.
  • Say no to dessert unless it’s one of your 2 cheat meals for the week. Order coffee/tea/peppermint tea instead.

Make healthy choices

  • Avoid ordering things from the ‘white & stodgy’ family – this includes pasta, pizza, pastry, jacket potatoes, rice, burgers, bread, chips and other meals with large servings of white carbs.
  • If you are going to drink, choose to have ONE or TWO glasses of really good quality wine rather than a whole bottle of not-so-nice wine just because it’s cheaper.
  • For canapés, choose ones with prawns, smoked salmon or vegetarian options. Often the portions are so small that 1-2 canapés won’t hurt.
  • Think ‘protein + vegetable’. Do you have some good quality protein (fish, chicken, turkey, lean read meat, tofu) and plenty of veggies?
  • You don’t have to order a salad but you may be surprised by how tasty they’ve become. No longer is a salad simply lettuce and tomato – some restaurants put roast veggies, pomegranate seeds, goats cheese and other tasty things in their salads. They can actually taste REALLY good and would be hard to make yourself – you may be pleasantly surprised!
  • If you are going to order a cheat meal (one of your 1-2 per week), then choose something that’s REALLY tasty and go for it, enjoy! You may be surprised by how you feel afterwards if you’ve chosen a heavy dish.
  • Don’t get food envy – that pizza will make you feel bloated and puffy.
brown fish fillet on white ceramic plate
The taste of the ‘healthier’ options may pleasantly surprise you!

Restaurant examples:


woman holds sliced pizza seats by table with glass
Go easy on the portion size and the carbs. 

Minestrone Soup
Rocket & Parmesan salad
Grilled shrimp or octopus

Grilled Chicken Spiedini (grilled chicken, roasted veggies, lemon olive oil)
Veal Marsala (veal sauteed with mushrooms) with side veggies/salad
Pollo D’Nonni (chicken breast marinated in soy, sherry, garlic and herbs, broiled and basted in butter and topped with mushrooms) plus side veggies/salad.

Avoid: Breads, pizza, pastas, fried foods


Soup – french onion, vegetable etc
Mixed salad with goats cheese
Mussels, clams or prawns

Tuna Tartare
Steak and salad (no chips)
Moules (mussels) with a side salad
Grilled fish with side salad/veggies

Avoid: breads, pastry, too much alcohol


Hummus with veggies instead of pitta bread
Babaganoush with veggies
1-2 falafal with hummus/tahini

Grilled chicken/lamb/beef with Tabbouleh, salad and grilled veggies
Yoghurt, hummus and tahini as dressings

Avoid: fatty meats, breads, pastries, Baklava


food dinner lunch unhealthy
Burger and chips… not a great healthy options let’s be honest

Grilled vegetable stack
Smoked salmon or grilled calamari salad
Tomato and mozzarella salad

Grilled whitefish with seasonal veggies
Chicken burger without the bun with salad
Steak and salad or veggies (no chips)
Seared tuna with vegetables

Avoid: breads, burgers, chips, mash, large portions


Papaya thai salad
Larb (meat & veggies wrapped in lettuce)
Summer rolls (not deep fried spring rolls)

Vermicilli noodle salad
Hot and sour soup
Vegetable curry
Grilled fish with spicy vegetables
Chicken cashew
Prawn, vegetables and rice noodle stir-fry

Avoid: prawn crackers, rice, fried noodles, large portions


platter of foods
Switch up the rice for veggies

Hara Bhara (vegetable) kebab

Sambar dal – a solid stew made with chickpeas, legumes and a variety of spices
Tandori chicken with side veggies
Chickpea and spinach curry

Avoid: naan bread, rice, fried foods

Hmmm, desserts… yummy. However, there is probably no dessert menu that has a healthy option. If there’s fresh fruit, go for it! Or share it with someone. Or do some extra exercise and REALLY enjoy the taste of it! I’m not all about deprivation, just making sure that you don’t treat every time that you go out as an excuse for a blow out.

Let me know any other types of restaurants you go to and what their healthy options are!

One Comment Add yours

  1. dpranita583 says:

    Nice tips for healthy living.

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