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Deciphering the Restaurant Menu

It’s the end of summer, which (at least for me) usually means a lot more eating out on patios, celebrating birthdays, ringing in the end of summer. Eating out is a fun, social way to spend an evening, but it can also be stressful and difficult if you’re trying to stick to a healthy diet. I have written about healthy eating out before, although mainly in the context of sticking to the paleo diet. This time, I’ve provided three steps to help you make the healthiest choice wherever you are.

1. Do some research 

If you know where you might be going, look up the menu online ahead of time. This will give you a good idea of what is offered and what you might choose. If you’re choosing the place, this gives you the opportunity to select a place that has what you want. And, knowing what you want ahead of time can also help remove some temptation.

2. Pay attention to key words

Some words are dead giveaways that a food will be prepared in a way that adds a bunch of extra calories or fat, and some words will indicate a healthier path.

Words to look for: baked, roasted, sautéed (lightly sautéed is best), fresh, grilled

Words to avoid: blackened (usually a lot of butter), fried, crispy or crunchy (usually means fried), buttered, goo-ey (typically indicates a lot of cheese), melted (also an indicator of a lot of cheese), creamy, battered, stuffed.

3. Stick to the basics

Stay away from the mixed dishes – pastas, pilafs, tacos, etc. Lean instead towards the meat, poultry, or fish with vegetables. A side of rice or pasta is fine, just take a few bites and spend most of you time on the meat and vegetables.

Ideas Nearby

I know a lot of this can be tough to figure out on the spot, so I’ve checked out a few menus around Harvard Square and provided some suggestions.

At Toscano: Instead of any of their many pasta dishes or even Caesar Salad (a salad notoriously high in calories and fat despite the healthy sounding “salad” name) try the Capesante (Georges Bank Sea Scallops · Leeks · White Wine · Sautéed Spinach) or Salmon Asparagi with sauce on the side (sauce on the side is always a good move).

At Daedalus: The healthiest entree looks like the chicken curry quinoa. Another great option is to order the chicken sandwich sans bun, mayo, and maybe cheese with a side of roasted Brussell sprouts instead of fries.

At Border Cafe: Avoid the cheesy enchiladas in favor of chicken or beef fajitas (spiced and grilled meat). Enjoy the meat and veggies and ignore the fajita shells. Also ignore the many pounds of free chips. This advice works at almost any Mexican eatery.

Eating out and sticking to a strict diet is close to impossible, but with some flexibility and strategy you can enjoy a meal out without running off the road. A few extra tips:

  • Ignore the free stuff- bread, chips, etc- and if eating out with a similarly health conscious group, ask them not to bring it out at all
  • Stick to 1, maybe 2, drinks. Booze calories and carbs can add up more quickly than you might think
  • Ask for sauces on the side and don’t be afraid to substitute side dishes. You may sound like you’re Sally from “When Harry Met Sally” ordering her meal, but that’s OK.

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