Ordering “the salad” off every menu doesn’t always work (or frankly, appeal) when it comes to dining out the healthy way.
Which is why, in our Healthy Menu Navigator series, we asked renowned nutritionist-author Heather Bauer to break down how to order at every type of restaurant—from family-style Chinese and vegan hotspots to Sunday brunch laden with hollandaise.
So even if we know to go easy on that last one, Bauer called our attention to food myths and choices that we hadn’t considered. As we wrap up the series, we’re sharing some of her most surprising and helpful insights that have stuck with us at the dinner table. Bon Appetit!
1. Skip the eggplant parm. It’s a common token veggie option, but eggplant “is known for soaking up loads of oil.” It’s a good reminder that just because something is vegetarian, doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
2. Healthier jícama. Try asking for this instead of tortilla chips when at a Mexican joint to go with your (moderately sized) guacamole. “Many restaurants offer the root vegetable sliced and baked.” Hola, great idea!
3. BBQ is A OK—just be conscientious. “I always recommend getting extra sides that are green,” Bauer advises. Collard greens, coleslaw (vinegar-based only), or green beans are great options your favorite Southern spot.
4. Chicken tikka, hold the masala. This Indian dish, made up of chunks of chicken marinated in spices and cooked on skewers, is a protein-packed option when ordering Indian. Just be sure not to confuse it with the ubiquitous chicken tikka masala, which is cooked in a lot of cream, Bauer says.
5. French women don’t get… Though it may seem like French cuisine is rich and buttery, Bauer is actually a big fan. “There are always great choices when you’re having French,” she says. “Mussels, clams… you’ll also see a bunch of different starter salads, roasted chicken, and plain steaks. It’s easy!” Bien sur!
6. Don’t binge on hummus. “Chickpeas are a carb (although they’re also a good protein source), so when you eat pita and hummus, you’re basically eating bread on bread,” Bauer explains. How about a tomato cucumber salad instead while dining à la Mediterranean?
7. The Golden Rule. Bauer suggests dividing your plate with half greens, a quarter protein, and a quarter carbs. She said it in reference to a holiday party table, but it can really be used in any scenario. Like the approaching summer picnic!
8. Go hard-boiled. Whether you grab a few from Pret A Manger for breakfast or order them on your Nicoise salad, Bauer likes hard-boiled eggs because they’re protein-packed and easy to eat on-the-go.
9. Be wary of “chicken.” She means the fake kind served at vegan restaurants, or any vegan/vegetarian dish trying to mimic meat. “Many of these dishes are loaded with gluten, fat, oil, and sodium,” Bauer warns.
10. Patience is a virtue. When presented with a buffet—whether it’s at a work meeting or a resort—“walk down the whole table and check out all of the options before loading your plate. The healthiest are usually at the end.” That way, you’ll avoid filling up on potato salad before you’ve even seen the healthy veggie kebabs waiting just down the line. —Jamie McKillop
View all installments of the Healthy Menu Navigator series here.