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Eating Out (Without Going All Out) 101

Posted Aug 17 2010 10:27pm

Since moving to California, I’ve done my fair share of eating out. That’s not to say that I didn’t dine it up in New York City by eating out (or ordering in) at places like this , this , this , this , this , and that .

Eating out in California is a bit different. There are certainly plenty of healthy options, such as the fabulous vegan restaurant Andy Nguyens , which is dangerously close to my college campus. Never mind the hilariously cheesy new age menu:

Mmmm, Limitless Compassion...

For an appetizer, I decided upon the spring rolls, which were filled with vegetarian ham, tofu, rice noodles, and veggies. Not to mention an excellent peanut dipping sauce:

I ended up going with the “Universal Love Lemongrass,” which definitely gave my taste buds good karma:

Mixed Veggies, Soy Chicken, Tofu, Doused in Some Sort of Brown Sauce

Who knoew unlimited love came with a side of brown rice?

It was absolutely amazing. Since the portions at Andy Nguyen’s are enough for two people, I packed the remaining half of this entree in a doggie bag. It ended up serving as an excellent lunch the next day.

What if  I’m on the corner of Greasy and Processed?

Despite having many delicious and healthy dining options here in California, I’ve had to contend with the limited options of mall food and chain restaurants when I’ve either been in a pinch or if the ultimate dining choice isn’t up to me. When navigating the inherently unhealthy menus of fast food and chain restaurants (whose portions could feed a starving pack of wolves), don’t give up hope. Think outside the “Jack in the Box,” and you’ll realize that even the most grease-laden food courts offer up some healthy choices.

Friday after work (and after receiving my paycheck), I decided it would be wise to start dressing the part of Assistant Property Manager by getting some official office attire. Off I went to the Roseville Galleria , a mall that warrants its own zip code. Malls are unheard of in Manhattan, so I was flabbergasted by the sheer enormity of this consumption metropolis. Or, as The Arcade Fire puts it so brilliantly in their latest album:

“Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains
And there’s no end in sight
I need the darkness, someone please cut the lights”

It had been at least two years since my last Mall visit, and once I was over the initial shock of it all, I got to cracking on purchasing two-for-one pin stripe pants. I think shimmying out of dozens of different blouses, pants, pencil skirts, and dresses for nearly two hours definitely qualifies as cardio. Ergo, my appetite made itself known after one particularly exhausting fitting room workout at H&M.

I nervously trudged over to the food court, and was pleased to discover a health-conscious restaurant called “California Crisp.”

Veggie Wrap (Romaine Lettuce, Onion, Tomatoes, Sprouts, Avocado, Hummus) and Laughably Small Fruit Salad

Their prices were fairly absurd (that shot glass of fruit was $0.75 extra!), but I’m always willing to pay more to eat less garbage…if that makes sense.

Also, it’s my personal belief that when one passes a self-serve yogurt shop, one must indulge:

Cake Batter Froyo (Toppings: Graham Cracker Crumbs, Mochi Candy. Blueberries, Brownie Bits, A Teeny Weeny Drizzle of Butterscotch Sauce)

Even if that happens two days in a row:

Circus Animals (A Childhood Favorite), Buttersotch Chips, Raspberries, Reeses Peanut Butter Sauce, Vanilla Froyo

What if it’s not up to me where I eat?

My brother is a generous lad. He’s not only loaning me his super sweet mustang , but he likes to take my Dad and me out to dinner often. The other night, we were in a particularly suburban area, where the closest you can get to exotic dining is P.F.Changs or The Olive Garden . When my brother asked if we were okay with eating at The Olive Garden, I immediately ignored the vivid memory of a drunken rant I once went on about how places such as “The Olive Garden” were the demise of society, America, and the integrity of food culture. (Jodi, if you’re reading this, you were my witness. I know you remember that diatribe well.) I also dropped three slices of pizza on the floor during that rant, but I digress.

Believe it or not, there are healthy (and dare I say it, tasty) options at the Olive Garden. It’s nothing that comes close to comparing to a meal in Italy, Little Italy, or even that little hole in the wall pizzeria I used to frequent on Columbus Avenue…but the Capellini di Mare surprised me in both quality and nutritional stats:

Shrimp, clams and mussels sautéed in white wine, garlic and a zesty marinara sauce. Served over capellini and topped with fresh basil.

The Nutritional Breakdown:

650 Calories

18 Grams of Fat

1830 mg of Sodium (Yikes!)

7 Grams of Fiber


I ate about half, and reserved the rest for leftovers. Also, since I was dealing with seafood I made a point to refrigerate the leftovers immediately and eat the following day. Seafood (especially shell-fish), has a very limited leftover lifespan!

So, as you can see, it is possible to maintain healthy eating in not-so-healthy situations. Or, as in the case of Andy Nguyen’s, situations where the portions (though inherently healthy food), are too huge for one person to consume.

These tips help me get the most food for my buck, and the smallest toll on my waistline:

1. Modify your order: Order dressing on the side, ask to leave out cheese, bring a plate for sharing, substitute fruit, salad or veggies for heavier sides such as french fries, mashed potatoes, homefries.

2. Doggie bags or take-out boxes are your best friend: Since most entrees are typically large enough for 2-3 people, eat just enough to satiate your hunger and ask your waiter for a to-go box before you impulsively eat the entire dish. Not only will this save you from diner’s remorse, but it will save you from making lunch or dinner the following day.

3. Give in, just don’t go off the deep end: Dining out is one of life’s nicest luxuries. You should embrace the opportunity to try new foods, create new memories, and indulge. Go for the chocolate mousse if it’s whispering sweet nothings to your belly, just be sure to share it with your dining companion(s).

What are your favorite tips for dining out sensibly?

I always order salad dressing on the side, skip the bread (or just stop at one piece), and go easy on the booze! (Aside from that previously mentioned time I ranted about the evils of The Olive Garden while losing grip of multiple pizza slices.)

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