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Tips for healthful eating when dining out

March 5, 2012 - Carla Tracy

One of my favorite ways of easing apprehensions when I meet new chefs or restaurant managers that seem a little intimidated by a dining writer on Maui is to joke that, “I really do have a great body underneath all of these restaurant meals!”

Most laugh out loud. Some don’t. Taken out of context, like above, it may sound weird. But it can really be funny. Only the joke is on me. After decades of writing about Hawaii restaurants, and dining in them, I’ve not only gotten wider, but wiser about the whole issue of obesity.

I try to keep things in check with daily exercise. My activities may include walking the dog, swimming and/or doing serious gardening chores at our fledgling banana farm. My husband and I also like to start our day with a smoothie made of aloe vera and other juices, apple bananas from our farm, papayas and other fruits and vegetables, spirulina and more.

Why am I talking about all of this?

March is National Nutrition Month. So now is an ideal time to look at how we can make dining out healthier.

According to the National Restaurant Association, “half of the meals that people eat today come from restaurants. In fact, the organization is forecasting roughly $631 billion in restaurant sales for 2012. In a typical day across the country, restaurants sell around $1.7 billion worth of food.”

“Clearly, we are nation that enjoys dining out,” the same press release states. “But one look at the obesity rates and other health issues makes it apparent that we also need to strive for making healthier meal choices, even when we are at restaurants.”

“Some people think that dining out means eating unhealthily,” explains Chef Paul Anthony Fario, known as “Chefario,” the executive chef at Arlington-based Extra Virgin restaurant. “That is simply not true. We, like most restaurants, offer a variety of healthy options, and we are always happy to accommodate requests for making things healthier.”

“Whether you are on a diet trying to lose weight, looking for ways to make your diet healthier, or simply want to maintain a healthy lifestyle, there are things you can do when dining out. Here are some tips for eating healthy when dining out:”

• Ask to have the food grilled, rather than fried. And while you are at it, ask that they skip the butter.

• When it comes to drinks and cocktails, stick to those that have less sugar and calories. This will keep you from adding unnecessary calories and sugar.

• Request that high-fat extras like salad dressings be served on the side. That way, you have control over how much goes on. Or, if you can, skip these high-fat items altogether.

• Opt for small portions in order to save on calories, fat, sodium, etc. If the restaurant offers a smaller portion, ask for it, or see if it is possible to get the lunch portion even though it’s dinner time.

• If you are going to have soup, skip the ones that are cream-based. Look for broth-based or tomato-based options, which will save a lot of fat and calories.

• Look for dishes that contain fruits and vegetables, which will give you fiber, as well as important nutrients.

• Don’t be afraid to ask if the chef can make something special, or a different way, so that it is healthier. Many chefs will even allow ordering something that is not on the menu, as long as they have the ingredients on hand.

• If you can’t pass up dessert, share it with those at the table. One dessert with several forks will provide dessert satisfaction without all the fat, calories and guilt of eating the whole thing alone.

“For those who want to dine out healthily, they can absolutely do it,” adds Chef Fario. “There is just no reason to give up dining out to be healthy. You can dine out and eat in a healthy way.”

I’ll agree to that. These days, even on Maui where two scoops rice, macaroni salad and fried meats are the standard, things are starting to change. The more we verbally assert our health preferences, the more chefs will listen. Joking aside.


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