Navigating a Restaurants Menu to make the Best Choices

I love food. Yes, you might be surprised by that declaration, but it’s true. While I love cooking with my husband, I also happen to like restaurants. There’s something to be said about having someone prep, cook and serve you your food; that’s why the restaurant business a billion dollar industry. With that being said it’s real important to learn how to navigate a restaurants menu to make the best choices.

If you’re a healthy eater, you probably know that most restaurant food is pretty unhealthy. For the most part a restaurants goal is to serve the best tasting food they can, and to do that it means loading it up with fat, sugar and salt, all things you want to avoid on a healthy diet.

While it’s not the best idea to eat most of your meals in restaurants, I provided a few tips to make navigating a restaurant menu  easier for making the best choices.

First, the type of restaurant matters. A small local restaurant is more likely to use fresh ingredients, often locally sourced. They’re less likely to use frozen or processed ingredients compared to big national chains who rely on huge food distribution companies to source food for all their restaurants. This is not a hard and fast rule, as there are chains that serve healthy fare and small restaurants that make everything straight out of the freezer. Use your best judgment and common sense when deciding.

Steer clear of buffets and yes, salad bars. In order to get your money’s worth, you’ll often overeat. If you’re forced into going to a buffet, make good choices and stop when you’re full.

Ethnic restaurants tend to offer better choices than their American counterparts. Think Asian, Indian, or Mediterranean, which focus on fresh veggies and grains as opposed to Mexican or Italian which feature dishes loaded with cheese and high fat meats.

When reading menus, don’t always go directly for the salad section. Salads can be a healthy choice, but not if they have iceberg lettuce as a base and are topped with high fat ingredients like bacon, cheese or creamy salad dressings. Choose salads composed of dark leafy greens and are loaded with vegetables or even fruit. Nuts are a better addition than croutons as long as they aren’t candied, and cheese should not cover the salad. Vinaigrettes are best, or ask for oil and vinegar and drizzle it on yourself.

Words to avoid: Fried, batter-dipped, creamy, crispy, Alfredo, au gratin or scalloped. Look for: Baked, sauteed, broiled, steamed or stir-fried.

Try to skip the appetizer section, as this is often loaded with fried foods. Cheesy dips, fried egg rolls, and chicken wings are so tasty, but definitely diet killers.

Beware of liquid calories. Often we go to restaurants to celebrate, and this means ordering specialty cocktails, which can pack on more calories than an appetizer or dessert. If you must imbibe, choose light beer or wine and stick to one.

Splurging once in awhile is okay, but don’t let yourself get so off track that you order with abandonment just because it’s a celebration. Choose one splurge item: an appetizer, cocktail or dessert and make the rest of your meal as good for you as possible.

By following these tips, you’ll find that you can have a healthy meal in a restaurant, without sacrifice.

How often do you eat in restaurants and what are some of your favorite dishes?

Photo by robertpaulyoung

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