We all know junk food is bad for us. But what happens when you’re short on time? In an airport, food hall or petrol station? Is a kebab better than KFC? Is sushi really good for you? How do you make a healthy choice that won’t max out your entire daily energy requirements in one meal?
Sports dietitian Simone Austin has worked with Australia’s most elite athletes, including the Australian cricket team, Olympic swimmers and rugby union’s Melbourne Rebels. Even athletes have to think twice when faced with a difficult food choice, she says.
“They’re travelling constantly which means they can get caught out, especially if a flight is delayed,” says Simone, currently contracted to the AFL’s Hawthorn Hawks and A-League soccer team Melbourne City FC. “It’s about looking for the things that have some nutritional value and avoiding the deep fryer.”
Like most healthy choices, the key is planning ahead. Austin gives us the good oil on how to avoid the bad fats.
1. Bring your own
Whether you’re driving to the shops or interstate, Simone suggests rice cakes, a can of tuna, some nuts and some dried fruit. “A tub of yogurt can be mixed with muesli for a healthy breakfast snack at the airport,” she says. A packet of wraps, a can of tuna and an avocado can make a tasty meal in a hotel.
2. Eat before you go
“Prepare so you’re not too hungry when you arrive,” says Simone. “You might need a snack or a top-up but you won’t be looking for a full meal.” If hot chips are too tempting, share one serve with a friend. If you’re ordering a meal that comes with chips, ask for extra salad and just a few chips on the side. “Half-a-dozen chips is enough to give you a treat.”
3. Choose add-ons wisely
Toppings, spreads, fillings and sides make all the difference. A jacket potato is a good choice but avoid the butter and sour cream. Look for vegetables and protein – beans and salsa are ideal. Avoid butter on sandwiches; ask for avocado and mustard instead.
4. Beware hidden extras
Sushi to the rescue? Not always, says Austin. “It’s low in fat but it has a lot of carbs,” she says. “Try one or two sushi rolls and a fruit salad to fill you up.” Rice paper rolls are a lower-calorie option and avoid the deep-fried prawns.
5. Find the healthy fast food
A fast, tasty and healthy option is a shish kebab – cooked on the grill rather than pre-cooked – and loaded up with tabouli. Made-to-order hamburgers can also be a good option. “Ask for no butter, lots of salad and one topping,” says Simone. “Either egg, bacon or onions but not all three.” Gourmet pizzas use more vegetables and lean meats. Even better, have a home-made pizza night with the kids and use a range of healthy toppings. A winning cuisine option is Vietnamese. Simone suggests pho soup and rice paper rolls: “Have fun adding extra bean shoots, coriander and chilli.”
Finally, consider the supermarket your best friend. A pre-prepared salad, cooked chicken and some wraps will be a much healthier option than the takeaway shop next door. Your hip pocket will thank you, too.