My entrée certainly sounded innocuous, yet it arrived egg-battered and drowning in some syrupy, sugary sauce.
Full disclosure: I’d become distracted by my dinner date at a hip new Italian bistro and figured a grilled chicken dish where I subbed another green veggie for the scalloped potatoes sounded perfectly healthy. Was I ever wrong, and my bad decision confirmed the biggest restaurant rule: Never, ever assume anything. If you have the slightest bit of doubt, ask, which ultimately becomes easier than sending something back.
Because I travel about half the year, I eat out a lot. I’m thrilled to find healthier restaurant options like grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, free-range poultry, and organic produce. At the same time, the terrain’s still tricky. Most restaurant foods come cooked in soybean oil; genetically modified organisms (GMOs) remain a concern; and many places use sugary sauces, MSG, gluten-containing spices, and other food intolerances in even healthy-sounding dishes.
A few ground rules about eating out: Don’t allow bread, chips, and other starters on your table. If you need a pre-meal nibble, ask for olives, guacamole with veggies, or a non-starchy veggie. If your friends insist on dessert and you’re aching to try it, stick to my three-bite rule: Have three (polite!) bites and step away from the crème brûlée. I try to keep my pinot noir till dessert, which helps me stick with one—OK, maybe two—glasses to prevent pre-meal tipsiness.
Above all, being assertive yet super nice to your server and improvising a little make eating nearly anywhere a breeze. Here’s how I do that in 10 restaurants:
Skip the chips and salsa and the starchy, deep-fried entrees. I usually start with guacamole with raw veggies followed by fajitas. I combine chicken or other lean meats with salsa, guacamole, onions, peppers, and black beans on top of a big salad. I skip cheese, sour cream, rice, and tortillas unless they have a gluten-free one.
Usually, I’ll opt for steamed chicken with broccoli or other green veggies and a little bit of gluten-free brown rice. Chinese dishes become notorious for MSG, cornstarch as a thickener, and sugar, so ask before you order.
3. Fast food
If I’m stuck at an airport kiosk or another fast-food place, I’ll get a grilled chicken breast with a salad. That rarely happens.
I’ll start with chicken coconut soup followed by chicken, scallops, or shrimp and veggies with red or green curry sauce. Like Chinese, many Thai dishes come drowned in peanut or other sugary sauces, so ask and steer clear.
I usually order Niçoise salad (hold the eggs) followed by Chicken Provençale. Or I might get steak frites with a salad and green beans instead of fries.
I almost always do a grass-fed fillet or share a bigger steak with a friend, along with steamed broccoli and maybe half a sweet potato or another non-starchy veggie. Easy.
A cucumber salad followed by sashimi is my go-to meal here. If I have sushi, I’ll stick with sashimi and then order half a roll (like a California roll) with gluten-free brown rice. I’ll slip in my own coconut aminos and steer clear of soy sauce. If I’m doing a hibachi grill, I have steak or chicken with double-steamed veggies and no rice.
While pasta usually fills most of the menu, Italian restaurants also offer fresh fish and other grilled entrees. Just confirm that your chicken is actually grilled and not egg-battered or whatever. Typically, I’ll get mussels marinara followed by cioppino (fish stew).
Like steakhouses, this becomes a no-brainer with a scallop appetizer followed by grilled salmon or halibut (wild if they have it) with mixed veggies.
Again, carb-y options abound, but many Meditteranean places also offer fresh fish, lamb, and other entrees with fresh veggies. I would order roasted fish with peppers, artichokes, and lentils and a glass of red wine for dessert.
What one cuisine would you add to this list, and what would you think your healthiest option would be?