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How to make healthier choices without missing out

If you’re trying to stay healthy, watch your weight or cut down on sugar negotiating your social calendar can seem like an impossible task. But it needn't be a case of missing out or being miserable - a few simple tweaks could ensure you have a great time without veering off track.

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Healthy choices- tweaks and hacks

Social events are meant to be enjoyable, so none of us wants to be whipping out the calculator and calorie counting our restaurant dinner. Instead, learning how to make healthy choices, that improve the health profile of your plate without scientifically analysing it means that you can relax when going for a meal, or plating up at a buffet or barbecue.

Eating out

When you're trying to make healthy choices, the idea of eating in a restaurant might seem a minefield. But it needn't be. These common-sense steps will make eating out less of a hazard.

"When out for a meal, think about what you can add to your plate - an extra side of vegetables or salad will add extra fibre and nutrients. It will also fill you up more, which will help you to avoid dessert if you wish, without feeling deprived," explains Dr Sarah Cooke, a GP who specialises in nutrition.

"If you’re choosing from a menu, opt for baked dishes over fried, for boiled potatoes rather than chips. And ask for sauces or dressings in a small jug on the side rather than already poured over the meal. It's very easy for the restaurant to do and means you can just add a small amount rather than drowning the food in excess calories, sugar or fat."


If the sun begins to shine on a weekend, it's tempting to get the barbecue out. However if you're trying to eat healthily, munching burgers in white bread baps may not be the ideal scenario. But don't worry, with a little forward planning you can create healthy options without compromising on taste or fun. "If you’re throwing your own barbecue, try making kebabs with lean meat and plenty of vegetables to cook on skewers. Marinade in a little soy sauce. Corn on the cob is brilliant on barbecues, and maybe even try bananas cooked in foil."

If you're invited to someone else’s barbecue it's harder to choose the menu. But you can still make good food choices - especially if you plan ahead. "If you’re taking a dish with you, try making a salad. And be adventurous, there are so many recipes out there that people will enjoy - it’s not just about being healthy, it can be delicious too," says Cooke. "If you don’t have much time, try buying a few punnets of miniature tomatoes in different colours and mixing them with some fresh basil," she suggests. "Or pre-chopped carrot sticks with hummus are a lovely addition that provides plenty of nutritional benefit."


However well we prepare, it's likely we'll want to reach for a snack at some point. Cooke suggests having some healthy options at the ready for moments of weakness. "Oatcakes and hummus are a great alternative to crisps," she says. "Or cut up an apple and eat with peanut butter. Homemade popcorn is great too - use a little cinnamon to pep up the flavour."

A little alcohoic drink

It's common for alcohol to be served during social occasions, and if you decide to have a little drink it's worth working out whether there's a healthier alternative to your favourite drink. "Having a glass of half wine, half soda water can be a good alternative to straight wine," says Cooke. "You're reducing the alcohol content and calorie count plus making sure you stay hydrated. People often find it just as satisfying, even though in reality they're only consuming half a glass."

"Also, if you're serving alcohol at home, check your measures - home servings can often be a little too generous."

"If you’re partial to a creamy drink such as Bailey's, it’s OK to treat yourself, but think of it as equivalent to a dessert rather than a drink. Have it instead of a piece of cake, have one small pouring and really enjoy it, don't drink several.”

Stocking up

If you're preparing for a period of celebration it can be tempting to fill your supermarket trolley with plentiful treats - such as large tins of chocolate. But having too much around the house can spell disaster for your diet. Especially if you buy in early. "Focus on quality rather than quantity," advises Cooke. "Large tins of cheap chocolate are temptingly priced, but choose something you really love and buy a little of it instead," she says. "Buy less, but better quality so you enjoy it more."

Make it fun

Eating healthily needn't mean compromising on fun. In fact, forcing yourself to thinkof new things to cook or eat can mean you increase your repertoire and find some new favourites at the same time. "Have fun experimenting with new recipes, especially during holidays. Try things you haven’t tried before. Make it a positive rather than a negative experience by using foods with lots of colour and flavour so you enjoy what you’re eating," says Cooke.

Let go and enjoy

While it's wise to have an eye on health, particularly if you're trying to lose a few pounds or reach a fitness goal, it's important to remember that the odd treat or meal out won't actually do you any harm. In fact, being able to let go and enjoy an occasion to the full is important for our mental health. "It’s OK to let go at times," says Cooke. "Attending a gathering or a family event, making the most of social connections and enjoying ourselves is important for our mental health. During a period of celebration, it's OK to enjoy the foods you want to enjoy."

However, whilst we can let go and celebrate a birthday, or meet up with friends for a meal, if celebrations or events take place over a longer period - for example in the lead up to Christmas - it might be pushing things a little too far.

Having less on your your plate, planning ahead and introducing healthy alternatives will mean you can stay on track without missing out on fun.

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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