Thursday, February 24, 2011

Guest blogger: How to eat healthy in a restaurant

Today's guest blogger is Nick, a recent college graduate and fellow blogger ( This is really good advice for all of us, but especially helpful for teenagers who are venturing out to restaurants with their friends, and may need a little guidance on how to order without mom and dad around. Many thanks to Nick!


If you’re trying to stay healthy, the best advice I can give you is to avoid going out to eat entirely. The latest “Barbecue Ranch Quesadilla Explosion!!” concoction at your local mid-range family joint may sound and taste delicious, but one too many of those monsters and you’re going to end up with a lot of inches where you don’t want them (and a lot less dollars where you DO want them!) But let’s be real: it’s Friday night; everyone’s going out and obviously you don’t want to be left behind. So how do you eat out without busting a gut?

Restaurant menus are, obviously, designed to make you hungry. They wouldn't exist if they couldn't make you want food. Of course, they couldn’t sell food if they advertised things as being “full of fat!” or “loaded with sugar!” or “three days worth of sodium!” So what do they do? They change the language around –

o       Creamy – On a restaurant menu, the word “creamy” means “mayonnaise or sour cream based.” Now I don’t know if the rest of you have as much of a problem with mayonnaise as I do (it’s a personal thing) but that makes it sound pretty gross to me.
o       *Fun fact* - Want to know what ranch dressing is made of? Mayonnaise, buttermilk, sour cream and seasoning. In other words: fat, fat, fat and salt. Enjoy!
o       Crunchy (or crispy) – These words usually mean the same thing: fried. This is particularly true with chicken. Often seen paired with the words “on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside.”
o       Pan-fried – Sounds healthier than deep-fried, but in general it’s usually just as bad. Consider what they’re pan-frying your food in – usually butter.
o       (Anything) crusted – parmesan-crusted whatever is a common item on many restaurant menus. How do you crust something? Batter it and fry it.
o       “Slathered” or “smothered in” – the phrase “slathered or smothered in our special sauce” roughly translates into “we take this baby and soak it in as many empty calories as possible.” I should actually make “our own sauce” its own separate entry on this list – most “our own sauces” are basically doctored mayonnaise.
So now that I’ve described just about every item on every menu ever, what are you actually supposed to eat? There are actually a surprising number of menu items that taste great and won’t leave you feeling 10 lbs heavier when you walk out of the door:
o       Grilled anything – while you’ll lose some of the crispiness of fried foods, grilled foods usually seasoned specially so that all of the flavor remains.
o       Chicken or fish – lean meats like chicken and fish are almost always going to be healthier than beef (unless you opt for the crispy chicken with creamy dressing). Beef is naturally higher in saturated fats and cholesterol, and the protein trade off isn’t really enough to make it worth it.
o       Steamed vegetables – I know, I know, who wants to eat vegetables at a restaurant? They’re not the most fun thing in the world, but steaming vegetables is actually the healthiest way to cook them, and with a little salt they’ll taste every bit as good as the French fries your buddies are dunking in their “Southwest Chipotle Ranch Tsunami” sauce. 

Now granted, if you’re generally healthy and only go out once a week, you can eat pretty much whatever you want and it won’t do much of anything. But if you want to make a commitment to staying healthy while still having fun with your friends, following the above advice will help you reach your goals without sacrificing your social life.

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