How To Eat Right Dining Out
It is hard to know how to eat right when you are dining out. Especially when over the holidays or when traveling!
I always feel as though I am vegetable deficient when traveling.
Restaurant Whole Food Options
As a chef and a 30 year restaurant veteran I am speaking from experience when I tell you that there are very few whole food options when eating out.
Most restaurants today, even some of the best, buy processed foods on most if not all levels.
How To Eat Right Dining Out
Eating right when dining out can be a bit of a challenge!
Let’s start with grains….
With very few exceptions, grains, pastas, breads, cereals, rice, cakes and any other carbs you can think of are processed prior to arriving at the restaurant they are being served in.
Only isolated exceptions exist in the restaurant business regarding good-for-you carbs and whole wheat flours.
Even when they say whole wheat, it rarely is.
It may appear richer, denser, and better for you , but the chances of finding real 100% whole grains when eating out are almost non-existent.
Sweet Potatoes VS Baked Potatoes
I eat baked potatoes a lot when dining out.
Baked potatoes are not the best carb choice as they a very high glycemic carb, but having said that they are in all cases truly whole with no additives.
I much prefer sweet potatoes when available. Brown rice can be found only occasionally. Oatmeal and shredded wheat are good grain breakfast items.
Other than that, almost no carbohydrates served in restaurants are whole foods. Corn is whole grain all the time, so polenta, corn-on-the-cob and corn muffins may be a good compromise option.
Restaurant Chains Use Pre-Cooked Meats
These products are already cooked, marked with grill color, seasoned and sealed to marinate in their own juicy bag of chemicals in a central commissary.
Without having a restaurant background to identify the product, there is no way to tell this, as they will never admit it. With experience or with a comparison of 2 side by side the processed has a different and recognizable texture.
When selecting meats on the menu, look for these words: baked, broiled, flame-grilled, flame-broiled, and charbroiled.
To a lesser extent, sautéed and grilled are good too when done right. Often a small family type restaurant will say grilled and mean GRIDDLED – cooked on a flat top griddle with a bunch of grease!
So ASK: Is that grilled on a broiler or charbroiled grill or is that cooked on a flat top griddle?
Mystery Sauces Are Scary
Just like the carbs and meats very few restaurants make scratch cold sauces.
Some do make scratch hot sauces, although a home/restaurant-made stock is basically nonexistent, so chemical-laden bases, bottled sauces and dressings prevail even in many of the finest restaurants.
Avoid the mystery sauce.
Desserts Are Desserts
They are high in calorie and yummy.
Look for fruit-based desserts or all fruit cups.
Sorbet or sherbet is a better choice than ice cream, cakes or pies.
Desserts made in-house will be better than purchased, provided they do not use cake mixes.
Questions To Ask So You Eat Right Dining Out
- Do you make your own salad dressings here? If no, get vinegar and oil. Most restaurants make some and not others. Always pick a vinaigrette, made in- house, served on the side. Use half of the dressing they give you and cut your salad after adding dressing to get distribution of the dressing.
- Are the salad greens green or white? Many servers do not know what field greens really are. Avoid iceberg lettuce if you can. If they have a Caesar salad on the menu, ask for the romaine greens to be used in your house salad, or whatever salad you order.
- Do you have baked potatoes? (ask even if they are not on the menu)
- Do you have sweet potatoes? This is the ideal restaurant carb if it is baked. If the answer is no to both potatoes then fruit is a good carb. Avoid white carbs.
- Is it brown rice? I mean brown as in whole grain rice or is it white rice with brown sauce? Only a few restaurants on earth actually have real whole grain brown rice. Wild rice is also a good choice but it is usually mixed with white rice which is all sugar.
- Can I have oatmeal for a dinner side dish? Some restaurants may have bulgur, or tabbouleh salad. (Couscous is not whole wheat.)
- Do you offer whole wheat pasta? If no, skip the pasta! Some restaurants will carry this as an option, and offer it only when requested.
- Do you make your desserts in-house? If no, then don’t eat them unless you have a severe craving. Purchased desserts are laden with hydrogenated fats, high fructose corn syrup and chemicals.
- Do they make the cakes from scratch or use a mix? Do not eat cake mixes. (See above)
- The menus says grilled: Is it grilled on a flame broiler or charcoal grill? Most family-style restaurant menus say grilled and what they mean is cooked on a griddle with a ton of grease, butter, or oil.
- Can you cook it with water or wine instead of butter? Baked fish, seafood, or chicken.
- Do you have bran muffins? Bran by its very definition is whole grain.
- Does it have a crust? Is it fried? Beware of meats served as an entrée or on salads that are described as crispy. Fish, chicken and other meats that are described as crispy are frequently fried.
- Do you make your own soups? Do you make your own stocks? As mentioned above, homemade stocks are rare. Homemade soups made from commercial bases are only a little better than pre-prepared soups.
- May I have an egg white omelet? “Egg Beaters” is a brand name and they are fine.
- Please serve my sauce, dressing, butter on the side: Request no butter on veggies.
- Menu says sauteed: Only a drop of butter or oil please! May I have mine sauteed in water or wine.
I am sure that I will think of more to add to this later, so watch for future dine out tips.
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