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8 Sensible Tips for Eating Out

May 2, 2022   Return

E_Prof Winnie Chee

Professor Winnie Chee   Dietitian & Professor, Division of Nutrition & Dietetics, International Medical University

We are all aware of the benefits of cooking at home. The main advantage of home-cooked meals is that we have complete control over what goes into each dish. We can choose to use only fresh ingredients, for example, and cut down on oil and sugar. Such control is not always possible when we eat outside.

Several scientific review papers reported rather convincing evidence that eating out is associated with a higher total energy intake, with increased energy contribution from fat in the daily diet as well as lower intake of micronutrients, particularly vitamin C, calcium and iron. Eating out has often been associated with increased body weight and obesity.

However, many of us are busy adults, leaving the house early and staggering home late in the evening. Eating out is often a convenient option when we are out of time or are just too tired to cook. Furthermore, we are surrounded by delicious food – this is Malaysia, after all! And we all love to eat outside, for pleasure as well as to sate our hunger. Unsurprisingly, studies show that on average Malaysians eat at least two meals outside the home everyday.

We are quite fortunate that eating out is affordable in Malaysia and we have a very wide selection of foods – from local favourites to cuisines from all over world! Here are 8 tips to help you enjoy eating out while still making healthy choices for your health and your waistline.

Tip No 1: Limit frequency and serving size

  • Limit the number of times you eat out. Don’t groan – it is faster and easier to prepare meals at home than you may think. For example, whole grain cereals and sandwiches are quick and easy breakfast to prepare. There are also many recipes for simple-to-prepare yet nutritious dinners – try searching for them online.
  • Be sensible about portion sizes. Go for smaller servings so that you will not eat more than you need (this will be good for your weight and waistline). Western fast food restaurants tend to offer “value meals” that come in portions that are far bigger than you need so order ala carte or, if you order a value meal, share it with a friend or family friend.

Tip No 2: Go for variety

Go to an eating centre which offers a variety of choices. For example, a food court or restaurant will offer a more extensive menu than a stall which only sells fried noodles. Your chances of eating healthier will increase if there is a wider choice of food.

Tip No 3: Choose a restaurant or eating place that you are familiar with and is willing to oblige you to make changes.

Some restaurants offer healthy options – visit these places more often.

Tip No 4: Make special requests!

If you are not familiar with a dish, find out what ingredients are used and how it is cooked. Then request if changes can be made, for example, ask for less oil or sauces.

Tip No 5: Know the menu terminologies – pick the healthier ones

Methods of cooking or menu terminologies actually do tell us which choices are healthier for us. Choose healthier foods such as those listed in Table 1 and go easy on menu items in Table 2.

Popular but unhealthy drinks

Healthier option(s)

Sirap bandung

Sirap kosong or sirap kurang manis

Cappucino, frappucino

Coffee with low-fat milk, latte

Teh tarik

Teh ‘o’ kosong, Chinese tea or plain tea

Canned or sweetened fruit juices

Fresh fruit juices (no added sugar)

Carbonated or soft drinks

Light or diet versions


Table 1: Healthy choice menu terminologies


What it means


Baked (fish, chicken, meat)

Cooked in an oven

Usually less fat content compared to fried foods


Cooked over a grill

Usually less fat content compared to fried foods. Note: fat may be used to baste food before grilling; you can request the chef to not do this.


Cooked using steam

Low in fat.

Clear soups/boiled

Cooked in boiling water/liquid/stock

Low in fat.


Cooked in direct heat/fire

Usually less fat content compared to fried foods.

Tom yum soup

Cooked in broth made of stock and fresh ingredients such as lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce and crushed chili peppers.

Low in fat. Low in sodium (salt) too if only fresh ingredients are used.

Masak singgang/masak asam

Cooked in stock with chillies/spices (without coconut milk).

Low in fat.


Table 2: Menu terminologies which denote less healthy choices


What it means

Less healthy because…

Char eg, char kuay teow

Fried in a substantial amount of oil

High fat and calories.

Masak lemak

Coconut milk is a base ingredient.

High in saturated fat.

Masak merah

Fried items cooked in spices and chillies

High in fat.


Deep fried in oil.

High in fat and calories.


Cooked with butter, sometimes coated with flour first

High in fat (especially saturated fat) and calories.


Cooked with cream or white sauces

High in fat and calories.


Deep fried in batter/flour or fried in substantial oil.

(Note: crispy and crunchy fresh fruits or raw vegetables are good, however, so enjoy away!)

High in fat and calories.

Pan fried

Fried in shallow/moderate amount of oil

Source of fat and calories.


Food coated with egg and breadcrumbs, and then deep fried

High in fat and calories.


Tip No 6: Order plain water or low-calorie drinks

  • Cut down or avoid drinks or beverages which contain a high amount of sugar, syrup, sweetened condensed milk and cream which are high in calories – they may jeopardize your efforts to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Go for iced water with a squeeze of lemon or unsweetened or less sweetened drinks.
  • Avoid cream toppings and sweetened condensed milk in your beverages.

Tip no 7: Always choose healthier options!

Malaysia has many different types of eating places or restaurants. Here are some tips on what to order and enjoy the foods the healthier way. Remember, eating healthy is also about portion sizes, so order smaller portions or share!

      Table 3:  Healthier options when eating out

      Place of eating

      Pick these

      Try not to pick these

      Malay warung, restaurants

      • Fish curry
      • Chicken curry
      • Chicken soup
      • Fish masak asam/singgang/ tom yam
      • Ikan bakar
      • Mee rebus
      • Mee Siam
      • Fried items such as ayam goreng, organ meat
      • Gravies cooked in oily sambal, santan-based curries
      • Nasi goreng/ mee goreng/mee ladna  or noodles with thickened gravy
      • Sup tulang and sup ekor

      Indian restaurant or kedai mamak

      • Capati
      • Plain naan
      • Idli
      • Thosai
      • Dhal
      • Rasam
      • Toast bread and boiled egg set
      • Tandoori chicken
      • Mee sup
      • Roti canai
      • Roti tisu
      • Thickened curry with coconut milk or fresh cream
      • Ghee based dishes
      • Poori, paratha
      • Mee goreng/Maggi goreng

      Chinese restaurants

      • Herbal soups
      • Noodle soups
      • Chinese porridge
      • Steamed fish
      • Hainanese steamed chicken with plain rice
      • Braised tofu
      • Steam boat with non-fried items
      • Yong tau foo with non-fried items
      • Wet popiah
      • Assam laksa
      • All thickened soups such as cream of corn
      • Fried noodles such as Hokkien char  and Cantonese style
      • Fried oyster omelet
      • Pork leg dishes

      Western restaurants

      • Vegetarian pizza
      • Consomme or clear soups
      • Salads with lemon juice and vinaigrettes or French dressing
      • Ratatoullie
      • Baked fish or grilled chicken
      • Grilled or roasted chicken, meat, fish or seafood
      • Seafood paella rice
      • Tomato-based spaghetti
      • Teriyaki chicken pasta
      • Pizza with cheese toppings/crust
      • Cream soups
      • Deep fried dishes such as fish n chips  or  chicken chop
      • Excessive amount of salad dressings
      • Sausages, bacon and fatty meats
      • Cream, cheese cakes, pies and pastries

      Japanese restaurants

      • Sashimi
      • Sushi
      • Grilled items
      • Soup noodles
      • Shabu shabu
      • Tempura
      • Teppanyaki
      • Deep fried items

      Western/fast food restaurants

      • Plain burgers/ à la carte items
      • 5-piece nuggets
      • Chicken wraps
      • Sandwiches –  roasted chicken breast, vegetarian, roast beef, chicken teriyaki, turkey (go easy on dressings)
      • “Diet” or “light” beverages
      • Unsweetened tea/coffee
      • Value meals
      • “Super”/large  chicken/beef burgers
      • Fish burgers
      • Regular beverages
      • Large fries

        Tip no 8: Finish off with fruits!

        Many of us like a sweet ending to every meal, so finish off your meal with fruits as dessert. Most hawker centres and stalls offer a variety of cut fruits so, take advantage of the nicely peeled and portioned fruit to fulfil your daily fruit recommendation and satisfy your longing for something sweet.


        Finally, if you have over-eaten, burn off the excess food with exercise!


        Lachat C et al. (2012). Eating out of home and its association with dietary intake: a systematic review of the evidence. Obes Rev.; 13(4):329-46.

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