"Let's go out for dinner!" I declared the other weekend.
The wifey asked, "Where to?"
We stared blankly at each other and shrugged. Truth be told, family restaurants are sometimes a minefield of high-fat, high-calorie options. And fast food is not an option either (although my kids are definitely going to disagree with me on that!). Because like us, I believe more families today are health-conscious and want something more nutritionally sound that is not served via a drive-thru.
Of course, the first step to healthy dining when eating out with the family is to pick a family-friendly restaurant which commits to using healthier ingredients and cooking practices. So it is great to know that, thanks to the Health Promotion Board’s Healthier Dining Programme (HDP), more than 500 restaurants outlets in Singapore have come on-board as participating Partners! This means that healthier options will be made more readily available for everyone.
The HDP aims to improve the overall diet quality of Singaporeans by encouraging F&B companies to include healthier food and drink options in their menus. These options are generally lower in calories and use healthier ingredients, such as wholegrains and healthier cooking oils. At participating restaurants, these lower-calorie dishes or meals are tagged with the ‘Healthier Choice’ logo.
But is healthier food just as tasty? Is it more expensive? Will kids like it?
These were the exact same questions that formed in my mind when I first heard of the programme. So there is only one thing to do - visit 8 restaurants around Singapore over a few weekends with my family and sample the dishes for ourselves!
We had the Seared White Cod Fish (above) and Miso Salmon Brown Rice at Dome Cafe. The former was a satin-smooth pan-fried cod fillet paired with sautéed vegetables while the latter was a seared miso-infused salmon fillet served with brown rice. The wifey was initially apprehensive of ordering a fish dish as she is not a huge fan of fish, but let's just say her plate was polished clean!
I know brown rice has a not-so-good reputation of being hard, bland and grainy. But in addition to being one of the healthiest foods in the human diet - rich in fibre, provides more vitamins (such as Vitamin B and E) and minerals (iron, zinc) than refined or polished grains - brown rice also provides bulk by absorbing fluid, hence one feels fuller with fewer calories. The brown rice in my wife’s meal also has a deep, nutty flavour and hearty texture that was further enhanced with the chunks of capsicum found together with the rice, making it a delicious combination!
Now which kid will say no to a dinner at Swensen's? My childhood memories certainly consisted of ice cream treats there! But as I found out, Swensen's is more than just sweet treats (and fries!). They have a decent range of 'Healthier Choice' options which include Grilled Barramundi, Grilled Fish Sambal, Pesto Salmon (above) and Ale's fave - Teriyaki Chicken Pasta.
I guess it is a no-brainer that healthier food choices equate to non-deep fried food. Deep-fried food are higher in calories and may result in weight gain. On the other hand, grilled meats could have a reduced fat content.
A place usually associated with good steak, Jack's Place surprised me with an ample offering of healthier options. A bowl of Jack's Seafood Salad (above) - tuna and assorted seafood served on a bed of crunchy lettuce - was always welcome but I had a pick between BBQ Chicken Steak, Spaghetti Bolognese and Grilled Salmon Steak. As a fan of fish, no prizes in guessing which I picked then.
I haven't dined at Hot Tomato before, but the wifey did. And she loves the food there so much that she was elated when she found out that Hot Tomato was one of the restaurants participating in the Healthier Dining Programme. And even more so when she realised that her fave Smoked Bacon Aglio Oglio came with the ‘Healthier Choice’ logo! Of course, we just had to have the Salad Caesar Salad with Salmon (above) as a source of fibre for the monkies.
Hot Tomato uses olive oil for all their pastas and grills, which probably explained the wide grin on Ayd's face when he ordered the Teriyaki Chicken Chop. You see, he is a little conscious of his mini tummy nowadays. Heh.
I had the Sirloin Steak while Ash devoured the Tenderloin Steak, both of which were lower-calorie (¬< 500kcal) meals. Who says eating healthy needs to be bland???
After a few meals at Western restaurants, it was a welcome change for the taste-buds to be sampling Chinese cuisine. And there is no better place for a hearty and healthy meal than at Paradise Dynasty, which serves up some of the most delectable Northern and Southern Chinese cuisine in Singapore.
If you have kids, you will know it can be a challenge sometimes to have them eat their greens, especially long beans! So I was pleasantly surprised to see the monkies scooping the Stir Fried French Beans with dried shrimp and preserved turnip (above) onto their plates on their own accord - turns out that the dish was flavourful enough to warrant second and even third helpings! Ditto for the Stewed Sliced Fish with Chinese Wine Sauce.
But the main highlight for the monkies has got to be the XLB, or Xiao Long Bao. For some reason, kids just loved eating them and frankly, I did NOT expect these XLB to given the 'Healthier Choice' status. But it is... so that probably means the kids will be eating more of these then (and less for me. Sniff.).
A-ONE Claypot House
A dining experience at A-ONE Claypot House is expressed through its family-style comfort food, comfy ambience, and well-mannered hospitality which was exactly what we experienced - and more, since claypot cooking uses less oil but yet retains the ingredients' natural flavours.
It was my first time dining there and for sure I will be back again, thanks to its flavourful Claypot Frog Legs with Scallion Ginger Sauce (above). It was the perfect complement to the smooth white porridge and the Premium Claypot - a combination of abalone mushrooms, scallop, prawn, sliced fish and fish maw - rounded off a perfect dinner.
As you can probably tell, this was by far the most filling meal we had out of all 8 restaurants! I think it was largely due to the fact that Soup Restaurant had a lot more dishes that are labelled as 'Healthier Choice'. We had (from top left, clockwise) all options of the Earthen Bowl Rice, Hand-Chopped Minced Pork with Salted Fish, Tomato Egg, Poached Baby Spinach with canopy in century and salted egg stock, and Claypot Salmon
I have to give special mention to the Steamed Meat with Brown Rice dishes. There are 4 choices available but no matter the choice, all are very tasty - certified by the monkies. Because this has to be the first time that the monkies ate brown rice so readily!
Oh, and who can forget the Steamed Hand chopped Minced Pork with Salted Fish? The monkies definitely can't! I heard that the minced pork is painstakingly hand-chopped so each outlet is only able to prepare 30 servings a day!
Mention pizza and pasta, and kids will inevitably start to salivate! Or at least mine do. So I suppose PastaMania needs no further introduction. But it got interesting when I found out that unlike some restaurants which only have 2 or 3 'Healthier Choice' options, PastaMania has NINE pasta dishes to choose from!
Likewise for its pizzas, there are plenty of options to satisfy the hungry kiddos!
Ayd chose his long-time favourite of Chicken Bolognese while Ash eventually settled on the "super yummy" (his words) Supreme Pizza.
I guess that is the beauty of dining out at a restaurant participating in the Healthier Dining Programme. There are healthier options that will appeal to everyone, not only to parents with kids but to grandparents as well... making it a true family-friendly dining experience for the entire family.
I think it is evident that the monkies loved all of the food we tried - all of them were 'Healthier Choice' options but that did not mean the taste and quality of the dishes were sacrificed. The food was just as yummy, with some even providing wholegrains and wheat options.
Price-wise, the dishes were not more expensive than the usual food fare. Pizzas at PastaMania range between $8 and $10.90 while the Teriyaki Chicken Chop with pasta at Hot Tomato was only $8.90. Who says eating healthy has to be exorbitant? Above all, the restaurants we visited were located in both heartland and city shopping malls which are all easily accessible no matter which part of Singapore we live in.
So the next time you are scratching your head as to where to bring the family out for an affordable and healthy meal, be sure to check out the list of participating restaurants in the Healthier Dining Programme - it will not burn a hole in your wallet and most definitely will not blow away your family's calorie and nutrient goals.