Looking Good (for a mom)

has been moved to new address


You will be automatically routed to the new site...please update your bookmarks.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Navigating the pitfalls of restaurant eating

If you're a working parent, it's pretty much a given that you're going to eat food that comes under the category of "restaurant eating," whether it's fast food, takeout, or actual dining out (which presents a whole new set of challenges when little ones come along). Although I've worked hard over the past year on cutting back on the number of meals that are prepared outside our home (which has financial as well has health benefits), there is still some percentage of the time where we're eating restaurant food. So I thought I'd share a few tips that have helped me stay on track, even when I'm eating out.

1. Don't be afraid to make special requests. Yes, it's true that people who have heard me order often make a reference to the movie "When Harry Met Sally" afterwards. They can tease me all they want, because a few simple requests can cut fat, sodium, and sugar by more than 50%!

Some of my favorite special requests:
  • Sauce on the side (more obvious for salad, but also consider for burgers, tacos, burritos, or other food items that have sauce spread on a bun or inside a tortilla).
  • No cheese or light on the cheese
  • Substitute steamed/grilled vegetables for the french fries
  • Hold the potato/tortilla chips (easier to leave them off than to resist eating them once they are in front of you)
  • Hold the butter or light on the butter (on the roll, hamburger bun, vegetables, grilled fish)
2. Prepare before you go. Check to see if the restaurant has a menu on-line, and review the nutritional information of things you are likely to want to eat to see how the data stacks up. Plan what you will order in advance, if possible.

3. Avoid food items that contain high fat "buzzwords" like...
  • Smothered
  • Battered/fried/crispy
  • Casserole
  • Cheesy
  • Creamy
  • Au gratin
  • Country
  • Gravy
4. Look for items containing healthier "buzzwords" like...
  • Grilled
  • Steamed
  • Poached
  • Baked
  • Roasted
  • Au jus
5. Beware high fat items masquerading as healthy items. Many people go out to a restaurant, and with the intention of eating healthy, they forgo the steak and baked potato they really want and order a salad. Unfortunately, at many restaurants, things like high fat dressings, croutons, bacon, cheese, and even fried tortilla shells have turned salads into some of the worst items on the menu! Better to get a small steak (take home part of any steak larger than about 4oz), a baked potato w/ salsa (not butter), and grilled veggies (without butter). You'll satisfy your desire for filling food, and end up eating less fat and calories than if you'd gone with that salad.

6. Watch those portion sizes! Some of these restaurants use huge plates and fill them up to "give you your money's worth." Well what a great way to save money AND calories! Ask for a box right when your meal comes, and immediately put at least half of it away for another meal. Think about the size plates you use at home and leave an amount of food that would look more appropriate on your home dishes, not those oversized restaurant ones!

With all of these rules in mind, I headed out to one of the restaurants my family frequents, ready to see if I could cut the calories and fat on one of their regular menu items to something reasonable. The restaurant? On the Border, which is one of the worst restaurants in the industry for having shockingly high fat and sodium in their menu items. They do offer a small list of healthier options, but my goal was to try to make one of the regular menu items healthy.

Starting item:

3 sauce fajita steak burrito with rice and refried beans
Calories: 1560
Fat: 78g
Sat Fat: 31g
Carbs: 126g
Protein: 72g
Fiber: 19g
Sodium: 4950mg

This is how I ordered it:
"May I have the 3-sauce fajita steak burrito, hold the queso and sour cream sauce. Black beans with no cheese on them. And can you please substitute grilled vegetables for the rice?"

Okay, that's not so bad. There was no eye-rolling on the part of the server, and they didn't seem to think any of my requests were strange. Using the restaurants own nutritional charts, here how I estimated the nutritional information for my custom order:

Ranchero sauce fajita steak burrito with grilled vegetables and black beans without cheese
Calories: 930
Fat: 39g
Sat Fat: 17g
Carbs: 77g
Protein: 55g
Fiber: 13g
Sodium: 2850mg

Let's see how I did! Just a few simple requests, and I cut the calories, carbs, and sodium by 40%, and fat by 50% (saturated fat by 45%), while reducing the healthy statistics - protein and fiber - by smaller amounts (24% and 32%, respectively). Although it's not as healthy as some of their "Border Smart" items, none of them include steak. You could cut the calories and fat even more on this meal if you choose the chicken burrito instead of the steak version I chose.

Okay, so admittedly that's still awfully high in fat and calories for a single meal, but if I ate sensibly during the rest of the day, I could still fit this into an 1800 calorie day without much trouble. Not much to do about that sodium level except flush it out with lots of water.

So yes, you can still occasionally go out to eat, if you follow some of the guidelines I laid out above, and eat sensibly during the rest of the week. Another great resource is the "Eat This, Not That" series of books and web services. Although I don't always agree with the author's recommendation on what to eat instead, the recommendations on what NOT to eat are spot-on!

Thanks for reading, and happy dining!

No comments:

Post a Comment