After my husband, Dan, had his heart attack more than a decade ago, we learned to choose healthier menu options when dining in restaurants.
No matter how carefully we study menus, it’s still easy to misjudge how much restaurant dishes break the fat bank. It was a real help when national chain restaurants were required to add calorie counts to menus as of May 2018. Although they usually do not provide a nutrition breakdown, we know that if the calorie count is high, the dish most likely is high in fat and empty calories.
I was floored when I first began reading calorie counts, and I’m not the only one influenced by these numbers. Researchers at Cornell University found that consumers ordered appetizers and entrees with 3 percent fewer calories when they had this information. However, they still ordered the same drinks and desserts, surprisingly.
When menus do not include calorie counts, we read the descriptions a little more carefully for clues to preparation and try to choose carefully.
- Starters. Rather than ordering cheesy nachos as an appetizer, we look for broth-based soups; steamed seafood, such as shrimp cocktail, hummus and vegetables; steamed clams in white wine with herbs; or grilled calamari. Roasted peppers are also a good choice.
- Leafy Greens. When ordering salads, we ask for dressing on the side, preferably a light vinaigrette or olive oil and vinegar instead of creamy dressings. We also ask them to skip or reduce cheese that’s part of a salad.
- Main Courses. While skimming the entrees, we focus on grilled or broiled seafood or lean cuts of meat instead of fried or cheese-topped dishes. If we’re in a pasta mood, we avoid cream sauces and choose tomato-based dishes. One of our favorites is seafood fra diavolo, with a spicy red sauce. Because restaurants tend to serve gargantuan proportions, I try to take half of the meal home.
- Sandwich Platters. For casual meals, we ask for fruit, vegetables or a side salad, if available, to replace the French fries or chips that accompany sandwiches.
- Something Sweet. If it’s available, fruit sorbet is usually a good choice for dessert compared with other options.
Despite our best efforts, we know most restaurant dishes aren’t as healthy as we would like, so we do the best we can and keep in mind that it is an occasional splurge.