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

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

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.

Barbecue

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.

Deep-fried food

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.

Tex-Mex

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.

Spicy food

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.

Indian food

Aside from being spicy, Indian foods tends to be made with a lot of cream or butter (usually ghee). The fried appetizers can also be rough on digestion, and when it comes to the main dishes, the combo of heavy, stewed, spiced dishes, lentils, beans, and lots and lots of basmati rice and naan can leave you feeling like you want to just take a nap instead of move onto the next phase of the evening. Maybe save the curry for after you've gotten comfortable with each other.

If you're hankering for Indian, though, I encourage my clients to go for a lighter dish like Tandoori chicken, which is marinated in yogurt and cooked in a clay oven, and to choose the carb they care about most — rice, naan, roti, or lentils — instead of all of the above. You'll enjoy a lighter, more balanced meal that will give you energy to take the rest of the night however you see fit. 

Onions and garlic

Onions and garlic are also on the "don't" list for many people when it comes to first-date foods. Aside from giving you stinky breath, they can also make you gassy as they break down, thanks to the inulin, a type of polysaccharide

If you're concerned, ask for onions (especially raw) to be left off of dishes and to scope out non-garlicky items. That said, if your date is going for the garlic and onions and you really want it too, just eat it — if both of you have garlic breath when you go in for that first kiss, don't you kind of cancel each other out?

Salad and other leafy greens

Go slow with salad if you don't want leafy greens like kale or spinach in your teeth. That said, a simple salad can be a great low-cal starter to fill up on or can even be made into a balanced meal when you order something with protein and plenty of fiber-rich vegetables. To minimize the damage, cut it up as you go. Ditto things like sautéed spinach, kale, chard, and other leafy stuff.

Just another note for any gluten-free diners ordering a salad in restaurants, Slusarek says, "Take a look at all ingredients, dressings, and recite the 'no croutons' mantra several times. Don't be embarrassed sending it back either — it's necessary." Eating gluten just to avoid making things awkward with your date or coming off as high-maintenance, she explains, isn't worth it. Barfing on their shoes or having to call it a night early is way worse than worrying about your date thinking you're being demanding. Celiac is a legit disease!

Pho

"Pho is a delicious, flavorful, and nourishing Vietnamese dish," said Jenna Madore, a dietitian-nutritionist in Maine, but "it isn't the most graceful to eat." Trying to coordinate eating hot noodle soup — do you use the spoons or the chopsticks? — she explains can lead to "some unattractive faces…The fun slurping where the noodle slaps your nose isn't the sexiest." 

Spiciness is a factor too, as that can lead to a runny nose or, for those who are sensitive, stomach upset. "When it comes to carb-heavy rice noodles," she adds, a bowl of pho can lead to a quick energy spike followed by a quick crash, which can make you want to end the night early. "A large bowl of noodles can [also] cause a bloated belly," she said. "If [you're] craving a noodle dish, think of sharing or enjoying it as a side dish. Pairing a carbohydrate with protein can [also] help give you some energy without the crash."

Bananas, hot dogs, lollipops, ice cream cones…

Yep, we're going there. New Orleans-based registered dietitian nutritionist and self-described "date-a-phobe" and "long-suffering singleton" Helen Woo, recommends staying clear of ice cream on a cone. "You just don't want to go there. Do you lick? Do you bite? Do you put the whole thing in your mouth? Do you do a little of each depending on what the situation calls for? You know what I'm getting at."

Squillaro also puts cannolis on the "please don't" list. "On my worst first date ever, the guy insisted on getting cannolis for dessert in Little Italy. He ordered three full-size cannolis to be exact. After watching that, I had no desire to see what he must have been compensating for."

Korean BBQ, fondue, and other things involving fire

File this one under kidding/not kidding. Anything with an open flame should come with a note of caution. If you're prone to first-date jitters or are just clumsy, probably better not to tempt fate with this one. Also be careful if you're pairing this with alcohol or if your date (or you!) has any daredevil tendencies or turns into a 10-year-old around fire. The last thing you want is a nasty burn or for someone's hair to go up in flames. Hot, yes, but probably not the type of hot you're going for. The DIY s'mores dessert might sound totally adorable, but perhaps you should wait until you're past the first-date jitters to share that. 

Candy, cookies, and other sweets

Sweet stuff for dinner sounds super-cute, but in reality, you're just setting yourself up for a hanger meltdown and an early evening. That sugar high will be sharply followed by an energy crash — not pretty. 

Because sweet stuff like cakes, cookies, and pastries tends to be low in fiber and protein, they're not all that filling in the long run, setting you up to overeat later when you get hungry. Make sure you get some protein in there. For example, if you're meeting up at that new crepe place in town, how about splitting one sweet and one savory?

Liquid dinner

Yes, alcohol has calories but booze is processed differently from food and can leave you feeling depleted — and wasted. As your liver works to metabolize the alcohol, it utilizes nutrients you need for other stuff — bad news if you don't replenish with actual nutrition. The empty calories in alcohol aren't actually doing your body any favors in terms of nourishment, especially when you drink on an empty stomach. 

If your plan for drinks leads into a second round, consider at least some bar snacks (protein-rich chicken skewers and hummus with pita are a few good options), as having some food with alcohol can help your body metabolize the alcohol more slowly to keep you stable. If you're headed out for drinks and aren't sure what the deal is with dinner, have a balanced snack before you go. For example, make yourself a green smoothie with protein powder in it, or have plain Greek yogurt with berries. A bowl of minestrone soup or other veggie-rich broth-based soup with beans is a well-balanced option that's still won't spoil your appetite in case you do decide to get dinner.

Major red flag alert: beware the babe who drinks their dinner. Also, keep in mind that someone who needs to have six beers to hang with you or who thinks of nothing of polishing off a bottle of wine may have some underlying issues that will not bode well for a healthy relationship in the long term.

Nothing

Sharing food is a very intimate experience. Take note if someone has hang-ups about eating with you (i.e., shows up and says they just ate or says they're not hungry even though you had plans). Julia Del Balzo, a psychotherapist in New Jersey, says, "If your date is uncomfortable having a meal with you this could be a red flag. For most, having a meal with others is a common and easy way to socialize and connect. Those who are reluctant to do this may be harboring some social issues or a troublesome relationship with food. It's normal for your date to have some jitters that may lessen their appetite early on, but it could be something to discuss should the behavior exist as the relationship continues."

While everyone gets a free pass, in a healthy relationship you need to be able to share that everyday stuff, including eating. If you like them enough, ask about it, but otherwise just cut your losses and move on. 

...but know there really are no rules

All that said, there really are no rules. We're all different and have our own unique preferences and personal deal breakers. When it comes to getting to know someone new, trust your gut, don't drink too much ("drink 'til they're cute" only gets you so far before you have to get real with yourself), and don't be afraid to speak up about what you want and need. 

Sure, it might be awkward for a split-second, but compromising on a place that works for both of you is way less awkward than your date having to stab you in the thigh with an epi pen because you were afraid to mention your food allergy. Allergies and intolerances aside, be open to trying new things or suggesting a supposedly unpopular choice, you might just bond over a shared favorite.