Eating out is yummy, fun, and exciting and we all love to do it. Somebody is there to take your order, cook it and do your dishes. All you need to do is sit back and relax.
The one thing you need to remember is that restaurants' main goal is for you to eat more and therefore spend more. They make the greasiest things sound amazing, and the unhealthiest things look so good that you can't turn your eyes away.
You can be certain that if you eat out even once a day, you will most likely be over your fat, sodium, and probably sugar for the day.
Restaurants make foods hyper palatable by combining fat, sugar and salt in just the right amounts. Some of the most beloved American foods such as Oreo's, cheerios, Cinnabons and Big Mac's were all designed in labs not kitchens.
So with that in mind, here are some useful tips to stick to when eating out to minimize the health damage and your body composition goals (plus some local recommendations in the end):
1. Avoid anything fried, crispy, crunchy or creamy on the menu.
Menus often describe fried things as crispy or crunchy and most common items include french fries, fried calamaris, chicken fingers, chicken wings, fried pickles, nachos. Any one of those items start at 300 calories per serving and go up as high as 600 calories.
When it comes to creamy stay away from creamy soups, dips, dressings, mashed potatoes, or dishes covered with heavy sauces or gravies.
Artichoke dip, often advertised as a healthy appetizer, is nothing less than a fat, salt and sugar trap, with a tiny bit of spinach in it.
If you are unsure whether a dish comes with a heavy sauce or a greasy dressing, always ask to have it on the side.
2. Don't be fooled by Caesar Salads.
One day my husband called me petrified sitting at TGI Friday's (or someplace like that), claiming that Chicken Caesar Salad has as many calories as a cheeseburger. Why would he EVER order a salad again knowing that?!
Caesar Salads are nothing else but layers of fat (cheese and dressing) on top of more fat and sugar (croutons) on top of a little bit of lettuce.
Order a house salad with dressing on the side instead.
3. Avoid sweet beverages both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
Stick to water/seltzer, or vodka/wine/beer.
4. Watch out for high alcohol beers such as IPA's or stouts.
The more alcohol in any liquid, the more calories. The market is booming with high alcohol IPA's and stouts which can start as low as 150 calories (for 5% ABV) in 12 oz and go up to 390 calories (for 13% ABV).
The average content for most IPA's sits around 7% ABV which makes two 12 oz beers equal to a whooping 420 calories.
That's almost 25 % of average person's food intake for the day.
5. Skip dessert.
This may come to you as a shock but you are better of ordering a glass of wine than having dessert. At this point we are comparing non-nutritious, empty calorie items, and calorie for calorie alcohol beats dessert.
Don't believe me? Try to find a 120 calorie, 2 g sugar dessert in any restaurant. That's how much a 5oz of wine has.
Small cheesecake without whipped cream has at least 350 calories and at least 25 g sugar. 1/2 cup of ice cream puts you easily at 250 calories with 20-30 g of sugar.
6. Say "no, thank you" to the bread basket.
Have you ever wondered why restaurants give you bread before you order anything? Are they trying to make you full? Quite the opposite.
Bread, especially white, makes you hungrier. Simple carbohydrates from bread trigger insulin production which intensifies your hunger.
Additionally bread, rolls, bread sticks or chips are quite salty which makes us more thirsty so that we end up ordering more drinks.
7. Be picky.
A lot of my clients know what they should order when eating out but sometimes they just don't want to be "that guy/woman" in the restaurant ordering this without that, making waiters job that much more pleasurable.
Well, I encourage you to be that person. Order what you want.
You are paying for it and they are being paid to get you exactly what you want.
You know that if you don't ask for no french fries (even if you don't plan on eating them) they will be sitting and staring at you. No matter how strong your will is, you will eventually eat at least some of them.
Some of the requests that can save you hundreds of calories can be as simple as:
"go easy on salt"
"no bun" or "half a bun"
"half serving of starches"
"extra side of veggies instead of the starch"
"no butter on veggies"
"bring bottles of EVOO and vinegar with fresh lemon wedge (as dressing)"
Now, onto some of my favorite dishes at local restaurants:
Salmon with wood fired vegetables @ 850 Degrees Wood Fired Pizza Restaurant in Ridgefield, CT.
Any fresh salads or fish dishes with veggies @ TerraSole in Ridgefield, CT.
Any of awesome salads + delicious mussles (no bread) or baked chicken wings @ Stanziato's Wood Fired Pizza in Danbury, CT.
Half smoked chicken or smoked turkey + 2 sides of veggies @ Wire Mill Saloon and Barbecue in Georgetown, CT - the best BBQ nearby IMO and always lots of leftovers
Chopped salad with chicken or shrimp @ Cellar Door Steakhouse of Ridgefield, CT
Mussles (with no bread) @ SUCRÉ SALÉ or one of their savory crepes (I always take half home)
Steak tips (appetizer) that I would have for dinner with a side salad @ the Hideaway in Ridgefield
Any salad @ Bernard's / Sarah's wine bar. Also their veal burger is to die for - I skip the french fries and order veggie of the day instead.
Veal Saltimboca - not too heavy, skip the mashed potatoes and double the veggies @ Rraci's Restaurant in Brewster, NY.
Pesto Chicken Salad @ Brio Tuscan Grill near the mall.