The Worst First Date Foods
Sharing a meal is one of the most intimate things you can do with someone, so it’s perfectly normal to be a bit nervous when you’re eating with someone new. We’ve all had a moment like this: you’ve been smiling all through dinner, only to realize when you do a bathroom mirror check before dessert that you’ve got spinach in your teeth.
Once you’ve gotten to know someone well all bets are off, but in the beginning there are just certain foods that are a bad idea on dates. As a nutritionist, I talk with my clients all the time about what to eat — and what not to eat — when they go out, both to support their health goals but also to avoid stuff most of us want to avoid on dates like bloating, GI discomfort, messes, and accidentally lighting something on fire. You also want to ask about allergies or restrictions.
For this story, I talked to real people and also some of my fellow registered dietitians to find out what’s on their list of worst first-date foods.
Sushi was wildly unpopular as a date food among the people I spoke with for a number of reasons. For one, it can be hard to fit in your mouth, Dietitian Shannon Garcia with KISS in the Kitchen, explains. “Biting a sushi roll piece in half is a no-no in my book, but shoving the entire thing in your mouth can also be a bit awkward. I’d suggest keeping it simple with sashimi or nigiri or just own the fact that you love big sushi rolls, and if your date can’t handle it, that’s their loss.”
There’s also the fact that sushi may sound healthy, but it’s essentially tons of (usually white) rice that’s been dredged in sugar and salt with a little bit of fish thrown in and minimal vegetables. All those simple carbs with not much protein to slow the breakdown can lead to mid-date sluggishness as your blood sugar spikes and then comes crashing down. Read: does not pair well with alcohol.
Spaghetti was, by far, the most-hated date food. Sure, making googly eyes over a bowl of spaghetti looks adorable in Lady & The Tramp, but in real life, it’s more like an explosion of sauce all over your clothes, the table, your date — not so sexy. Alexa Squillaro in NYC has another reason it’s a deal-breaker. “As someone with a hatred for all chewing and slurping noises, spaghetti is the absolute worst for a first date. If you don’t know how to eat spaghetti silently, please don’t order this. But actually maybe do, so I know not to go for date number two.”
Italian can also be tricky for people with celiac disease. Alicia Slusarek is a dietitian in Wisconsin who actually has the condition herself, so she’s been there. “Those with celiac disease are restricted to a 100 percent gluten-free diet, which makes eating out difficult! Understanding that any cross-contamination with gluten may cause symptoms is a huge ‘dinner date dilemma’ for those with celiac on the dating scene.” Don’t be afraid to ask about gluten-free options.
If your heart is set on pasta, do ravioli, penne, orecchiette, or something else you can neatly spear with a fork. Better yet, if you’re eating Italian, think outside the pasta box and go for some veggies and grilled fish or calamari in red sauce — delicious but leaves more carb calories for dessert. Or wine.
I love barbecue just as much as the next person, but a lot of people shy away from eating ribs on a first date. That said, some people consider it a good screening tool to see if someone is willing to get their hands dirty. Sure, it’s messy, but if your date is adventurous, go for it.
Another downer is that traditional sides like fries, coleslaw, and macaroni and cheese are heavy and can make you sleepy as your body works hard to digest all that fat. As a dietitian, it’s also kind of my job to point out that a typical BBQ meal lacks green stuff. To keep things neat (and nutritionally balanced), do a pulled pork or chicken platter and have some veggies and corn on the cob as your sides.
High-fat and deep-fried foods can be difficult to digest, leading to digestive woes like diarrhea, gas, cramping, and bloating, especially for those with IBS or a sensitive stomach. Because breading and batters on foods like fried chicken and shrimp often contain gluten and because foods that would otherwise be gluten-free (veggies, potatoes, and the like) may be fried in the same oil as gluten-containing foods, these can be tricky for anyone with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Deep-fried foods also tend to be very high in calories and unhealthy fats, so not helpful if you’re trying to stay on track with healthy eating habits. Opt for steamed, grilled, baked, and sautéed items, and ask your server about potential gluten contamination if you need to eat gluten-free.
A lot of people said that anything with beans is a no-go because of the gas and bloating factor. Beans are very high in fiber and contain a type of carbohydrate called oligosaccharides, which cause gas as they break down in the body. While you can mitigate the effect by soaking beans before cooking and straining off the foam that accumulates on top when you make beans from dry at home, you can’t count on that in a restaurant.
Another reason Tex-Mex is tricky is all that cheese, which can cause digestive woes for people with lactose intolerance and, at the very least, make you feel bloated from all the sodium. So maybe save Tex-Mex for after the relationship talk when you’re not worried about your dining companion running away on account of flatulence.
While some spices like turmeric, ginger, and chili pepper have been shown to have anti-inflammatory benefits, which may be helpful for preventing and managing inflammatory digestive conditions in the long term, many people find that spicy foods cause GI discomfort like diarrhea or stomach pain. Be careful with Mexican, Thai, and Indian food. Ditto hot wings. Don’t be afraid to ask for the milder version.
If you’re gluten-free, just scope out the sauce situation, Slusarek explains that although the spices themselves are generally gluten-free,”spice bends can sometimes contain a gluten-containing ‘anti-caking’ agent.” She also encourages asking about thickeners in sauces, as they can be problematic.