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Healthy Menu Navigator: Tapas

Do the tiny Spanish dishes really count as portion control? Nutritionist Heather Bauer explains how to order healthy dishes at a tapas restaurant.
Tortilla española (Photo:
Tortilla Española—basically the national dish of Spain—is a smart pick. (Photo:


Even if you know to steer clear of the bread basket, it turns out the average restaurant meal clocks in at a whopping 1,128 calories—yep, 1,128—making it easy for even the most health-savvy among us to think we’re eating well while eating out, when we’re not.

HealthyMenuNavigatorFinalEnter nutritionist-author Heather Bauer, of Bread is the Devil and Bestowed fame—and our culinary compass. Each week, Bauer steers us toward the healthiest choices on restaurant menus of any type.

Last week, Bauer helped us navigate the menu at an Indian joint. This week, it’s Spanish tapas! Buen provecho, everyone.

Heather Bauer’s tapas menu navigational nugget

When the meal consists of a lot of small dishes rather than just an appetizer and an entrée, it can be tricky to track how much you’ve really consumed—especially if you’re a fast eater (and a bit of a food hoarder), which Bauer cops to. “I’m not a good sharer,” she says. “When they put the food down, that’s the most challenging moment for me.” Remind yourself to slooooow down and leave some for your friends. “I always need to keep in mind there are two or three more waves of food coming my way!” Bauer says.

Another word to the wise: Savory tapas can sometimes be a bit salty, so be sure to hydrate with plenty of water (not just wine!) throughout the meal, Bauer warns.


1. Tortilla Española. There are a lot of variations on this delicious spanish staple, but at it’s core, it’s a protein-rich omelette made with potatoes.

2. Mussels or shellfish, cooked in a white wine broth. Simple, refreshing, and light—kind of like paella, but without all the starchy rice.

3. At least one (if not two) salads…

4. …And plenty of veggies. Bauer’s rule of thumb to keeping a tapas outing from turning into an unhealthy food-fest is to make sure you get something green with each and every round of food.


1. Anything breaded, fried, creamy, or cheesy. If you don’t know what something means, or how a particular dish has been prepared, ask! With so many tiny, tasty tapas to choose from, there’s no reason to go for any of these not-great-for-you options.

2. Potatoes—you’ll get some starch in the Tortilla Española, and you don’t want to overdo it on the carbs.

3. Croquettes. Sure, they’re small, but these Spanish fritters are full of fat.

Hungry for more? Next week, Bauer’s spilling her secrets to ordering healthy French food. Or check out last week’s guide to ordering healthy Indian.