Nando's is life. The South African chicken-themed chain has been a staple on our high streets since 1992, and going for a Cheeky Nando's is so ingrained in British culture, taking stuff off the menu causes Twitter meltdowns, and there's even a Nandos breakfast available at Gatwick airport.
But while we are all pretty low key obsessed with Nando's, what would happen if you ate nothing but delicious, Peri-Peri-flavoured food for a week?
After my American colleague did a similar investigation into eating nothing but McDonalds for a week, I decided I wanted to find out - but I'd be swapping Big Macs for Sunset Burgers.
First a bit about me - I absolutely bloody love Nando's. Whenever I go to the cinema, it's my pre-film meal of choice. When I did the Body Coach plan, it was my eating out saviour, and while normally I am pretty careful about eating healthily, Nandos is my ultimate vice.
But my Nando's opinions are boring AF - I always choose Butterfly chicken, sweet potato wedges and macho peas, a salad if I want to be healthy, or a pitta if I'm feeling basic. I know, it's lame - but this week was a chance for me to step the f*ck up, and try some real, OG Nando's meals. I mean I hadn't even eaten the garlic bread - frankly, my side selection was pathetic.
Everyone at work is well aware of my Nando's obsession (I may have been the reason we all had to eat Nando's before our Christmas party last year, soz huns) - but would I be able to stomach it for an entire week, including breakfast? Would I get a chance to try everything on the menu? Would I end the week with a peri peri shaped food baby? Let's get cheeky and find out.
Breakfast - The world's worst chicken roll
Lunch: Quinoa and sweet potato salad and bottomless Fro Yo
Dinner: Chicken, mash and macho peas
Day 1 of my Nando's diet, and I hit an immediate roadblock: what the hell was I going to have for breakfast? Nando's doesn't open till lunch, and while I had read about the Gatwick Nando's breakfast, you actually have to be flying out of the airport, beyond security to eat it - and paying for an actual flight ticket was a step too far, even for an addict like me.
Luckily I had bought some Nando's marinade and some Peri Salt in advance of this challenge, so I cooked some chicken breasts in the sauce, and um, ate it sandwiched between the driest, stalest roll in my bread bin #fail. Even a spoon of Sainsbury's basics hummus couldn't improve it, and my mouth felt drier than the sahara.
When lunchtime finally rolled around, I needed moisture, so I opted for my first bottomless refill (DC of course), coupled with the quinoa and sweet potato salad, and chicken with Mango and Lime. My aim was to go up the spice levels as the week progressed, because sometimes I feel ashamed that I choose the wuss's spice level - my own father thinks red peppers are 'spicy' so let's just say heat tolerance does not run in my family.
The salad was solid, but seeing as it was a boiling hot day outside and I'd spent my lunch break in a Nando's-cum-basement off Piccadilly Circus, I took a frozen yoghurt to go to eat in the sunshine. I'd never had a Nando's dessert before - and this was pleasant, if a little plain (vanilla is the basic bitch of desserts, don't @ me). Didn't stop me from refilling my yog three times though #greedy.
My mood was redeemed in the evening by takeaway Butterfly chicken, the creamy mash and macho peas. I don't ever pick mash because I can't quite shake off memories of the claggy shit you got served at school dinners with an ice cream scoop, but this was buttery and delicious - a hot take right there. There's also something so extra about having Nando's at home - the lack of bottomless refills is of course not ideal though.
B: Chicken, rice and peas
L: Steak prego roll
D Chicken, sweet potato mash and peas, Chicken livers
After my absolute disaster of a Day 1 breakfast, I made a version of chicken breast, spicy peas and macho peas, using the Nando's-themed shiz you can buy in the supermarket. It was reaaaally salty (I went a bit wild on the Peri salt) but was edible.
I started to wonder if you could die from eating too much chicken, and while this was unconfirmed by any medical research or study, I decided to switch things up with a a Steak Prego roll for lunch. I'd never let my eyes reach the non-chicken section of the menu because, why - but this steak sandwich was actually amazing. Why the hell hadn't I been eating this before?
Dinner rolled around, and I was feeling rebellious after my reckless menu choice at lunch, so I added Chicken livers to my pretty simple chicken butterfly, sweet potato mash and macho peas. I'd always looked at this item on the menu and thought - who the HELL orders that? But, dear reader, I actually thought the livers, while looking pretty grim in the takeaway box, were alright. Very rich, but a decent addition to my meal. Who even am I?
B: Custard tart
L: Wrap with halloumi and mushroom, macho peas
D: Hummous, Chicken thighs , peri-salted chips and macho peas, Coconut gelado
Mood: Gassy (sorry)
How do the Portuguese eat these for breakfast (OK I don't know if they do). I had this sugary pastry at 9am (which I got to go at my Nando's dinner order last night - how forward-thinking of me), but by 10:30am I was STARVING. I need protein in my life for all meals, otherwise I peak full of sugar and joy, and then crash with regret.
At lunch, I got a takeaway and decided a veggie wrap and macho peas was a good plan for eating in the sun. Again, I have never eaten veggie Nando's - but this was really good - but I felt pretty outraged at the £9 price tag for lunch when I am a massive tightwad.
By 5:30pm though, I was hungry again - so when dinnertime came, I went hard and got a three course Nando's, the first of my life. Apparently the Nando'shummous contains an insane amount of calories - but I was so hungry no f*cks were given that day. I shared the hummous with my husband, knocked back a heartier chicken thighs, chips, and macho peas (again), and then finished off with the Coconut Gelado.
The Coconut Gelado was way better than the frozen yoghurt IMHO, and despite all that food, I felt pretty OK - bonus! But, real talk: DO NOT have two lots of Macho peas in a day - all that fibre can have a weird effect.
By this point, I was also starting to tire of the bottomless refills - despite my pretty amazing caffeine tolerance (I can have two bottles of Pepsi Max and feel fine, check me out), all those bubbles weren't making me feel so great in the bloat department. I was going to need to wear stretchy culottes to my next Nando's trip.
B: Chicken, rice and peas
L: Chicken Pitta, brownie
D: Chicken burger, garlic bread as bun, corn with Mango and Lime butter, fantoeke
Time to try some Nando's hacks! If you haven't heard on the Nando's grapevine, there are all kinds of crazy ways you can hack their menu, and while I'd already accomplished one of these by simply buying one of their sauces in Sainsbury's, I was ready to do more.
After my rip-off Nando's breakfast, I got a Chicken pitta for lunch - and could quickly see this was going to be a triple-chicken day, and I was here for it. I also got the salted caramel brownie as a mid-afternoon snack and oh sweet baby jesus you need to make room for that bad boy on your next Nandos trip. It's quite Instagrammable, and even contains gold flecks of glitter!
At dinner, I hit up my local Nando's, and while the staff were clearly starting to think I was a bit weird coming in literally every day, they still indulged me when I asked for the following Nando's hacks: Garlic bread as a bun for my Chicken Burger, and Mango and Lime sauce on my corn on the cob as well as butter.
Did either completely transform my meal? Kinda - the garlic bread was probably the dud, because garlic bread is so pure to me, it deserves to be its own side dish, not jumbled in with a burger. But the Mango and Lime sauce drizzled on your corn and the Fantoeke (fanta mixed with coke), were a revelation.
B: Chicken, rice and peas
L Steak pitta, bread roll as a snack
D Sunset burger, coleslaw and salad
Day 5 of Nando's, and I was starting to be thirsty a lot of the time - must be the Peri Salt I can't get enough of. I was also getting annoyed at having to go out to get lunch and dinner every day (I know, I know cry me a river) - although, such is the love for Nando's in my circle, I could nearly always find a friend or relative to come with me.
I decided I couldn't face another triple chicken day, so I got a steak pitta for lunch - and again, was taken aback by how delicious it was. Nando's do really great steak rolls guys, who knew?
For some reason the branch I got my takeaway from threw in an extra bread roll for jokes (maybe I looked sad waiting for my order?), and I shovelled that down at around 4pm when I was in the midst of an afternoon slump.
Then, it was dinner time. Now, if I was on Love Island, the Sunset Burger would 100% be my type on paper. I would couple up with that mo fo in an instant. I had it with coleslaw and a side salad because I was trying to get through all the sides on the menu (note to self - both are underwhelming), and while the cheesy, mayonnaise-y and chicken thigh goodness really hit the spot, I had to undo the top button of my jeans afterwards.
B: Chicken, rice and peas
L: Chicken burger
D: Wing Roulette, and beanie wrap with pineapple
After promising myself I'd up the spice ante as the week progressed, I realised I'd stuck to Mango and Lime or Lemon and Herb sauce on all my chicken - so as a punishment, my husband suggested I do the 'Wing roulette' - where you get a load of chicken wings with your order, but each wing has a 'mystery' spice. Oh the danger!
He had done the 'Roulette' once before and one of the wings had nearly blown his face off with heat (that was a fun date night), so the idea was he would film me eating the wings and my reactions would make great #content.
But luckily for me (and him, because we share a bathroom), the good folk at Nando's didn't give me ANY spicy wings! They were all either mild or medium at best, and I polished most of them off with a smug look on my face. But then I had a Beanie wrap with pineapple which I'd bought to calm down the spicyness , felt WAY too full, and nursed a food baby on the sofa. That is a stodgy AF veggie option.
B: Chicken, rice and peas
L: Chicken butterfly, corn on the cob, and macho peas
D: Red pepper dip, Fino platter, Roobois tea
Mood: Extra AF
I had finally reached the end of my Nando's journey, and was pretty much done with chicken by this point. Also bottomless refills. I was peeing so much! But I soldiered on with my chicken for breakfast, and chicken, corn and more peas (oops) for lunch.
To end our week of eating Nando's, my husband and I decided to go out with a bang - by ordering all the fancy shiz you see on the menu but never think to try. I'm talking about the Fino platter, my friends - which comes with a whole chicken, and all the posh sides like sweet potato wedges and the greens and grains salad. You could tell it was date night, no expense was spared.
We started off with the red pepper dip, which was like the hummous's poorer cousin, but it's cool, before heading on to the main event. The platter looked so huge I thought we'd never eat it all, but I was WRONG, and of course we nailed it. I'd had a week of practise after all. Have to say I thought the greens and grains salad was a bit meh, but other than that I felt fancy AF eating this meal. After swearing off fizzy drinks, I had some posh Rooibos drink which did not bloat me (yay!).
I slept like a baby that night, with all that sweet, sweet Nando's in my belly - side note: I slept REALLY well during this experiment - maybe eating chicken for a living is tiring work?
So what did I learn from my cheeky little challenge? Even for a Nando's lover like me, I DID get slightly sick of chicken eventually - but luckily the menu is so varied, there was plenty of new sides and ways to eat chicken that made it bearable. Everyone kept asking me at work if I was "doing OK" and if I was "sick of Nando's", and tbh, not really throughout this experiment.
I did get annoyed with breakfast - because I'm a porridge girl, and eating chicken so early felt weird at first. I also recoiled with rage when the whole office got pizza and I couldn't eat it because it wasn't Nando's - that box was sat on the desk next to me for three hours and it was torture.
I snacked a lot less, because Nando's doesn't really do snacks - much to the disbelief of my editor, who said I could have had non-Nando's snacks if I wanted to (dammit). But then I didn't really get hugely hungry between meals - a first for me - and this was probably because I was eating proper satiating food - a quick glance at the Nandos nutritional info will tell you most meals are (relatively) balanced when it comes to protein, fats and carbs.
I guess maybe I cheated with this food challenge by eating somewhere that isn't too unhealthy to begin with - I mean you can make it reeeaallly unhealthy if you go ham on the hummous, drink bottomless refills till you're peeing all evening and knock back the creamy mash - but overall, Nando's isn't that bad.
I didn't weight myself before or after - mainly because I forgot. I almost certainly would have been retaining water though, because while Nando's is maybe healthier than your average takeaway, that food is SALTY - or saltier than the meals I make at home. I felt bloated and quite thirsty a lot of the time - but that is probably from eating out for nearly every meal, drinking a LOT more Diet Coke than I normally do (all about those free refills), and not having my home-cooked meal preps every day where I can control exactly what I eat and how it's seasoned.
But, when I looked at before and after pics I did take in my gym gear, I didn't notice much of a difference to be honest. Also, literally a few days after I started eating normally again, any bloated feelings disappeared.
Which was comforting - and I hope it serves as a reminder that sometimes it's OK to just chill the eff out with food. Maybe don't go on some crazy ass diet if you've had a week of eating out, or once you're back from your all-inclusive holiday, and you really don't need to stress about counting calories or macros if you're away from home for a week or so - your body will reset itself after you go back to your normal eating ways.
Basically, life is for living, Nando's is for eating, and what fun is going out to eat if you're not actually enjoying your food?
Find the Nando's menu here and follow Lauren on Instagram.
Lauren SmithHead of SocialLauren Smith is Cosmopolitan UK's Head of Social, and looks after the site's social media accounts, as well as occasionally covering fitness, health, lifestyle, and travel on the site.
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