Tips for Dining Out

Asian Family Having Lunch Together

Even though dining out with the family can be expensive, there are times when it is the only option available. This doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice eating healthily. Here are some tips to get a balanced meal without breaking the bank.

First, bring your own water. Drinks add to the cost of dining out and often, the options available outside are mostly high in sugar. If it isn’t already a habit, it’s good to start carrying a water bottle wherever you go. Not only will you save money on drinks, you’ll also be more likely to fulfill drinking your recommended eight cups of water a day.

Next, go for wholegrains, which when you think about it, is a great value for money option. Even though some stalls might charge a small premium for brown rice or wholemeal bread, the added cost would work out, since wholegrains keep you fuller for longer (and saving you money on snacks). In addition, you benefit from the vitamins, minerals, and fibre wholegrains retained. These nutrients are stripped from refined grains during processing.

Lastly, be creative when eating out. You don’t have to be rigid about achieving a balanced diet at one meal seating. Instead, consider picking up a fruit from a convenience stall and getting your wholegrains from a bakery or supermarket. This approach will certainly help you to save money.

Related: Restaurant Guide to Healthier Eating

Dining Out / Takeaway Suggestions for a Family of Four

Here are four options to meet HPB's My Healthy Plate recommendation of 1/2 plate of fruit and vegetables, 1/4 of wholegrains, and 1/4 plate of meat and others.

Asian Hawker Center

Healthy Meals On a Budget (Under 20 Dollars)

Option # 1 — At the Hawker Centre

  • 2 vegetables + 1 meat (excluding fish and seafood) at economy rice stall — $3.50

  • Add $0.30 for brown rice

Total Cost — ($3.50 +$0.30) x 4 family members = $$15.20

Option #2 — Air-Conditioned Comfort

  • Mee Siam with brown rice vermicelli at Qiji — $4

  • 4 apples from a fruit stall — $0.50 x 4

Total Cost — ($4 + $0.50) x 4 family members = $18.00

Option #3 — Breakfast

  • Sausage McMuffin (with wholegrain muffin) or Sunrise Roll with Chicken Ham (with wholegrain tortilla) at McDonalds — $3.60

  • Bananas from a supermarket — $2 for a small bunch to be shared

Total Cost — ($3.60 x 4 family members) + $2 = $16.40

Option #4 — Picnic

  • Large roasted chicken — $8

  • 1 loaf of whole-grain bread — $2.50

  • 1 pack of mixed salad — $6.65

  • 4 oranges — $2

Total Cost — $8 + $2.50 +$6.65 + $2 = $19.15

Related: Healthy Home Meals on a Budget

Home Cooked Meals on a Budget (Under 20 Dollars) 

Asian Family Preparing Food

Cooking at home allows you to have more control over what you eat. Not only can you ensure that your family gets a healthy meal, but you can also do so in a more economical manner. Start with mixing a little (20%) brown rice into your white rice. This small addition of brown rice would not increase your budget by much.

To ensure you use healthier ingredients, look out for the Healthier Choice Symbols when doing your grocery shopping. You should also avoid deep-frying too often and choose healthier oils.

Dining at Home Suggestions for a Family of Four

Here are four suggested healthier recipes that you can try which won’t cost you more than $20 to prepare. For even more healthy recipes, check out the Recipes page.

Note: Many of the costs indicated below will be much lower as some of the items such as herbs and spices can be used for several rounds of cooking.

Sliced Fish Bee Hoon Soup 

Option #1 — Sliced Fish and Bee Hoon Soup

This easy-to-prepare dish can be cooked within 30 minutes and contains less than 400kcal per serving. Proteins should make up around ¼ of your meal, of which fish and tofu are especially healthy choices. In addition, this recipe replaces regular bee hoon with brown rice bee hoon.

See the recipe.

  • Snakehead fish fillet — $6

  • Brown rice bee hoon — $1.25

  • Tomatoes — $1.55

  • Spring onions — $0.85

  • Ginger — $1.14

  • Evaporated milk — $1.40

Total cost = $12.19

Nasi Kuning 

Option #2 — Nasi Kuning

This classic Indonesian rice dish has been made healthier with the use of brown rice in the recipe and is just 412kcal per serving. It also contains fish, which you should aim to get two servings of each week. This is a tasty option that’s full of interesting spices.

See the recipe.

  • Brown rice — $5.05

  • Turmeric — $1.45

  • Coriander — $1.35

  • Pandan leaf — $1.15

  • Evaporated milk — $1.40

  • Tomatoes — $1.55

  • Green peas — $1

  • Lime leaves — $0.95

  • Lemongrass — $1.65

  • Can of tuna flakes — $2

Total cost = $17.75

Indian Stir Fried Checken with Spring Onion

Option #3 — Indian Stir-Fried Chicken & Spring Onion

This low-calorie dish is just 181kcal per serving (excluding bread or chapatti). Lean meats such as chicken give you more protein per calorie than fatty meats. It can be eaten with wholemeal chapatti or wholegrain bread.

See the recipe.

  • Chicken breast — $5

  • Onions — $0.65

  • Ginger — $1.14

  • Green chilli — $1.45

  • Coriander seeds — $1.35

  • Cumin — $1.45

  • Turmeric — $1.45

  • Fresh coriander — $1

  • Garam masala — $2.10

  • Wholemeal chapatti — $2.75

Total cost = $18.34

Tuna Potato Bake

Option #4 — Tuna Potato Bake

This delicious, cheesy potato bake is surprisingly healthy, containing just 338kcal per serving. Oily fish such as tuna, mackerel and tenggiri batang also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which is beneficial for a healthy heart. It takes just 10 minutes to prepare and 30 minutes in the oven to cook.

See the recipe.

  • Canned tuna — $6

  • Celery — $1.30

  • Potatoes — $1.70

  • Frozen corn — $2.05

  • Fresh Parsley — $1.45

  • Low-fat cheese — $5

  • Wholemeal bread — $2.50

Total cost = $20

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