Finding a healthy meal in a restaurant

Monday, January 18, 2010

We went to a restaurant for dinner on Friday night and, while we were reading our menus, I was thinking about how difficult it may seem to find a healthy choice while dining out. The food descriptions can be tricky because high-fat and calorie-dense dishes may be disguised as healthy choices because they are referred to as "fresh" or "all natural" or "vegetarian". While there is nothing wrong with foods bearing those descriptions, they are not necessarily the best options because of them.

To illustrate my point, let's consider this meal: vegetarian lasagna, a side salad with Caesar dressing, and a small order of broccoli with brown butter and mizithra cheese. It sounds like a meal full of veggies and that is healthy, right?

Let's take a closer look:

Ack. This meal contains almost enough calories for an entire day and a terrifying amount of fat, sodium, and cholesterol. My stomach hurts just thinking about eating all of that!

So what is a better alternative? First, consider what is in or on top of the entree that you order. Here are some things to look for:

  • Dishes that contain cheese, cream sauce, butter, or fatty meats (e.g. sausage, bacon, ground beef) are likely to be a high in fat and calories
  • Opt for lighter sauces such as marinara and grilled vs. fried foods.
  • Don't be fooled by salad; it is only a healthy option if it isn't smothered in dressing or topped with meats, cheeses, or deep-fried croutons.
  • If there are sauces or dressings that you love and really don't want to pass on, order those on the side so that you can control your portion.
Salad tip: When ordering a salad, ask for the dressing to be served on the side. Instead of pouring it on the salad, dip your fork in the dressing before each bite. You will eat significantly less fat and fewer calories and you'll still get some of the flavor that you love.

Here is what I ordered on Friday night (this is for the portion of pasta that I ate- it was very large and I only ate half):

(If you're wondering, this meal contained about 16 grams of protein.)

Healthy eating doesn't mean that you can never have your favorite foods if you make a few small changes:

  1. Choose an entree that isn't smothered in high-fat ingredients.
  2. Surround that entree with side dishes that are high in fiber and low in calories in fat (e.g. plain veggies or salad with the dressing on the side) and eat those first so that you aren't tempted to devour an entire restaurant-size entree.
  3. Put yourself in control of your serving size and enjoy the richer foods in moderation.
Happy dining!

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