FOR millions of Brits, the humble meal deal is a total lifesaver.
They’re a brilliantly cheap way of keeping us full until dinner, offering a drink, main and treat (sweet or savoury) for just £3.
But you could be getting more than you bargain for.
Because the portions of the grub available as part of the package are huge.
According to Wired, chowing down on one meal consisting of a sandwich, a small pack of Doritos and a Naked smoothie actually comes to 5.8 servings of food.
How can that possibly be? Well, sandwich aside, you’ve got:
A 55g packet of Doritos may be marketed as being the perfect accompaniment to a lunch for one, but only 30g constitutes as one serving.
That means you’re eating 1.5 servings a pop.
Think you’re going for the healthy option by choosing a fruit smoothie?
A 360ml bottle of Naked contains up to three portions.
This wild difference in portion expectation versus reality is all thanks to the fact that food companies vary wildly in their products.
OK, forget the bigger bottle of smoothie.
Instead, go for a small 300ml bottle of meal-deal friendly Tropicana – which is just orange juice.
That little bottle is actually two portions.
Dietician Luci Daniels wrote a report for the British Heart Foundation on “Portion Distortion”, and she told Wired that the food industry “perhaps isn’t being as open and honest and realistic as it could be”.
“People look at calories, but they probably won’t look at the very small font that says per 15g, or per five pieces, or whatever.
“It’s wrong, because it’s very misleading.”
Impossible to stop eating
The problem is that despite products having portion guidance, few people actually read the label – or are able to stop themselves from finishing, say, a bag of crisps or bottle of juice.
How many times have you managed to put a clip on a bag of snacks, or break off two squares of chocolate and saved the rest?
If it’s there, we’ll eat it – whether it’s 20 per cent too much or too little.
That’s something called “unit bias”, which is where we feel like we have to or want to eat a whole unit of food even if it’s actually more than one portion.
Piling on the pounds
Registered Dietitian and Spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association Helen Bond, told The Sun: “Eating out and grabbing food on the go is a daily occurrence for many of us and is an easy option when you’re time short to prepare nutritious food at home to take into work.
“Meal deals can be a balanced and cost-effective lunchtime option, but if you’re not careful in your choices and taking note of the suggested portion size on pack, your healthy eating principals can go out of balance – and you may end up consuming more calories, saturated fat, sugars and salt than you realise.
“Studies have shown that when we are presented with larger portions of foods, we tend to eat more without even realising – so, portion control can be difficult when eating on the go and out and about.”
Portions aren’t the same for everyone
Sophie Bertrand, registered associate nutritionist at the Rhitrition clinic, told us that portion control is different for everyone.
“We know that too much of anything is not necessarily a good thing but people will always have slightly different needs when it comes to energy intake.
“When it comes to meal deals that contain high amounts of sugar, it comes down to not turning to the same food every day.
“We know that variety is key in a well-balanced diet and one meal deal isn’t going to do any harm.”
While it’s true that a big meal deal might be perfect for a 6ft-tall scaffolder who is doing a physical job all day, eating over these portion sizes every day may make the average 5ft 4in office worker pad out.
Sophie suggests that before you start eating, “take note of the suggested portion on pack and save the extra for later, or another day”.
“Also, be aware that a food manufacturer’s idea of a portion size may not be the same as yours, so there could be more calories in the portion you serve yourself.”
Nutritionists’ tips for getting more meal deal savvy
Check out the nutritional information
Lots of places are now giving nutritional information online, on menus and on packs to help you make healthier food and drink choices.
It’ll also help you put the nutritional content of what you’re eating or drinking into the context of your overall day.
Beware of bargain meal deals
Don’t be coerced to eat extra just because it comes with the meal deal.
Those little extras seem unimportant, but if it becomes an everyday occurrence, over time it can cause the pounds to pile on.
Check out the ingredients
You never quite know what’s gone into your food when eating out, and even healthy-sounding meal deal lunches can contain high amounts of calories and fat.
Look past the name on pack and check out the ingredients and suggested portion size mentioned in the description; if a salad contains lots of cheese, bacon, croutons, olives and caesar dressing, then it could have more calories and fat than some of the other menu options.
Try and take your time to appreciate what you’re eating.
Concentrate on the taste, smell and texture of the food, and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the lunch break and the company.
It not only adds to the eating experience, but it will put you in a better position to take control of what, and how much you’re eating.
Look at food labels
Food labels can help you to choose between foods and to pick those that are lower in calories, but do consider the whole nutritional package of the meal deal.
What else does that food provides in the way of fat, saturates, sugars, salt, protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals?
Meal prep yourself
Make extra when you’re making dinner and box it up to take the next day.
Or, put some time aside on a weekend and prepare some batches of healthy grub to grab out of the fridge throughout the week.
MORE ON DIET
Variety is the spice of life
Tempting as it may be to eat the same lunch every day, that might not best serve you.
If you’re out and about, try asking yourself what your body will really thrive off of…one day it might be a meal deal, the next day it might be a salad lunch box.
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