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Day 17: Healthy Eating Out

Posted Jan 20 2010 2:00am

Hello! Today marks 2.5 weeks into the Challenge. Almost done with the first month, but the goal isn’t to just do this for a month, then go back to old ways. The goal is that the changes you make this month set the groundwork for maintaining a new, healthier lifestyle.

Healthy Eating Out

healthy eating out 300x225 Day 17: Healthy Eating OutToday, I just want to refresh some things in your mind about healthy eating out. I don’t think I’ve been out to eat at all this month, for no particular reason, but I do enjoy going out to eat and I try not to drive the wagon down a ravine in a fireball when I do so (most of the time). Cause let’s get real…if you’re going to make this a lifestyle change and not drop the new things you’ve picked up in the past couple weeks, you’re going to eat out sometimes.

The Worst Things You Can Order

Okay, so obviously you could go out to eat and consider it a treat meal, like I discussed in my article on cheat meals. Or you could step in and be faced with the bread and still show your willpower, avoiding it all. And then, you opt for a seemingly healthy meal from the menu that is more than you bargained for. Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that the enchiladas slathered in cheese sauce, the fettuccine alfredo, or the stuffed pizza are bad ideas. But check out some of these others than seem innocent enough:

Chipotle Grilled Chicken Burrito

Take a tortilla bigger than your face, fill it with grilled chicken, rice, black beans, guacamole, and salsa and you end up with 1179 calories, 125g carbs, 33g fat, and 52g protein.
Better Bet: Get it as a “Bol” (no tortilla), nix the rice and beans, double the meat, and add double fajita vegetables to save about 82g of carbs and 520 calories. Another trick…wait until they’ve put your vegetables in, then ask them to put a little more. If you ask before they add the veggies, you won’t get much more than normal.

Smoothie King 20oz Angel Food Smoothie

Evocative imagery of angels…really, how bad can it be if it’s for angels?. Check out this genius marketing:

Angels have to be light on their wings—those things are delicate. In that case, they’d have no problem feasting on this fantastic low-fat blend of banana and strawberries. It’s creamy, delicious and fit, well, for an angel.

What I want to know is how they can run this in the “Trim Down” line when 85% of the calories are sugar? 354 calories, 75g sugar (84g carbs total), 0g fat. Just for comparison, 20oz of Coca-Cola only has 68g of sugar.
Better Bet: Don’t go here. All of their drinks are crap. I prefer solid food, but if you want a shake/smoothie, check out 5 Sweet Savory Primal Shakes from Mark’s Daily Apple.

TGI Friday’s Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad

Seems innocent enough. Pecans? Healthy. Chicken? Healthy. Salad? Who can argue against a bowl of lettuce? But when you fry the chicken and add on a sugary-sweet balsamic vinaigrette, you get 1360 calories with 71g of carbs (38g of it sugar) and 50g of fat. Now, you know I’m not afraid of fat, but considering that it’s mostly the rancid vegetable oils the chicken is fried in and probably soybean oil in the dressing, this one is just bad news all around. I’m still amazed at a salad with 38g of sugar!
Better Bet: Order something grilled with a side of vegetables.

PF Chang’s Chicken Noodle Soup

It doesn’t get more wholesome than chicken noodle soup, does it? Well, except for the processed grains in the noodles. But really, in the grand scheme of things, how bad can a bowl of soup really be? 759 calories, 24g of fat, and 92g of carbohydrates. There’s a snooze waiting to happen. What’s funny is if you view the nutrition info, it seems pretty light at only 120 calories. Until you realize that a serving is 7oz and the bowl it comes in is 32oz. Nice sleight of hand there, Chang’s.

The Usual Rules Apply

That’s enough. You get the idea that everything isn’t as it’s cracked up to be with seemingly healthy restaurant choices. You know all of regular rules for healthy eating out:

  • Ask that bread and chips not be brought to the table.
  • Ask for plain old oil and vinegar dressing for your salad.
  • Skip the appetizers. They’re typically just fried stuff anyway.
  • Skip the starch, double the vegetables. (Once the oil and vinegar is on the table, keep it for adding some fat to your vegetables.)
  • Avoid fried foods. Opt for baked, grilled, roasted, or broiled.

Those are good tactics if you want to avoid temptation, but it’s not always possible. If I’m out to eat with friends or family and I tell the waiter to take away the bread or chips, there is likely to be a mutiny.

I’m lucky in that my favorite dishes at most restaurants are rather unadorned. I naturally tend to gravitate to what I think of as better options that are basically just meat and vegetables. At Mexican restaurants, I usually go for carnitas (or the fajitas) and skip the tortillas. At my local Cuban place, lechon asado (pork marinated in citrus and garlic). Greek, lamb. I actually find it really easy to eat well while enjoying the heck out of dinner at ethnic restaurants.

Who’s The Boss?

Remember one final thing: just because you’re at a restaurant doesn’t mean you have to order off of the menu. Most restaurants have beef, pork, chicken, and seafood and will be happy to prepare it however you want. Grilled, broiled, fried…they’ll pretty much do whatever you ask. Just because all of the options on the menu come slathered in a sauce doesn’t mean you have to order them that way. If they can serve you pork chops doused in a sugary barbeque sauce, I’m betting they can serve you just pork chops perhaps with some herbs. Just because a salad comes with a particular dressing doesn’t mean you can’t ask them to hold it and bring oil and vinegar.

Ask for what you want and you’re likely to get it. Remember that you are giving them money to provide you a service. Pay for what you want. Sally Albright knows how to get exactly what she wants. All you have to do is ask.

Task For The Week: “Have It Your Way” When You Eat Out

No, I don’t mean go to Burger King. I mean, if you visit a restaurant this week, ignore the stares and remarks from your lunch or dinner companions and don’t worry about what the server thinks. Just tell them exactly what you want and demand (nicely) that you get it. Any decent restaurant will work with you.

Or, alternatively, find something on the menu that isn’t a complete train wreck. As I mentioned before, I find that ethnic restaurants tend to make this easier. For me, there’s something about the different flavors of ethnic foods that make something very simple just pop. Kind of like the lechon asado at a Cuban restaurant…it’s just pork marinated and cooked in citrus juices and lots of garlic. But the taste is incredible without breading, frying, coating in sugar, or anything else.

Of course, if you don’t eat out regularly, just keep this stuff in mind next time you do.

What do you do at restaurants to keep things from going completely off the rails?

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