Friday, September 10, 2010

Eating Right, Eating Out.

I was driving to the gas station to pick up 20 gallons of diesel fuel when some chick came on the radio doing one of those informative commercials about fitness (or whatever those radio spots are called). The day's topic was eating healthy at restaurants. I freely admit that it's not easy to do but I wasn't really satisfied with the tips that they gave. I don't think that they were general enough to work at every restaurant.

Most people probably look at eating out as a splurge experience to begin with. That's why the food on most menus are bad for you and they're served in enormous portions. The experience is supposed to be a treat. I don't always look at it that way. I travel a lot for work and I don't want to eat junk every, single night. In fact, I'd rather spend 6/7th of the week eating right. If you're like me, in the minority of people who won't let it all hang out every time you cross a restaurant threshold, then I've got some tips to help you out with that.

There are a few things that you have to keep in mind while reading this entry. Since the overwhelming majority of restaurants are set up to be indulgent, they're all going to have bad things on the menu. It's a minefield that you have to navigate. I don't want to hear that this restaurant really sucks for eating right. Almost all of them do, somehow. Eating right while eating out is the culinary version of panning for gold. It's tricky and we also have to accept the fact that the best options on a menu aren't always going to be great choices. They're just going to be better than others. For every good entree choice, there's about 7-14 on the menu that suck.

The first, and as far as I'm concerned most obvious, tip that I can give anyone is to avoid any and all appetizer menus like the plague. Well, they are a plague... of salt and fat. Most appetizers are breaded, fried, covered in creamy or cheesy sauces, and stuffed with fatty/salty meats. It's not uncommon to find out that the caloric intake of the appetizer is higher the main course or the even the dessert!
You really out-did yourself on this one, Outback! 2900 calories and 182 grams of fat! Nice Job!

The second tip is about cooperate sit-down restaurant chains. You might want to avoid them too! Many of these don't operate very differently than the fast-food restaurants that we all try to avoid. Yeah, there's a waitress. Yeah you sit at a table and order your food. Okay, you're not being herded out in 30 minutes or less. Still, it's probably glorified fast food. Often times, the food is not made fresh at the restaurant but pre-made somewhere, salted, preserved, frozen, and shipped a few hundred-or-so miles. They also have the same disregard (contempt?) for making food healthy that so defines fast food joints.

The two cooperate restaurant chains that I like for eating right are Outback Steakhouse and Ruby Tuesday. While Outback completely blows healthy eating out of the water with their appetizers, desserts, and drinks, most of the side dishes are made to order so you can request them without the added junk(butter, cheese, bacon, etc). Plus, a lot of the sides are actually very healthy. They've started offering smaller steaks too and a lot of their steaks are leaner cuts. Ruby Tuesdays is more obvious: they've made their salad bar their main attraction. I also like that they have whole grain buns for their burgers, two of which are turkey and bison I might add. So, the lesson to be learned here is to find out who is making your food to order, who is making it in large batches, and who serves glorified TV dinners.

The Third tip involves price point. Quite simply, the more expensive the restaurant, the better chance that you have of finding something that's actually healthy on the Menu. People of (supposedly)affluence and money are more health-conscious. They've done studies that prove that.

Remember I mentioned above that you could ask for the sweet potatoes at Outback dry? Well, if you're going to eat right at a restaurant, you're eventually going to have to ask for some substitutions. That's tip number four: don't be afraid to ask for substitutions, or subtracting stuff. Just make sure you're nice to the waiter/waitress when you order. If you act like an asshole, expect your order to get "screwed up." Oh, and leave a decent tip for the extra trouble, particularly if you're planning to return or become a regular.

This isn't always easy but it's part of a growing trend: If you can, search out localvore or "green" restaurants. They have fresher, often times organic, foods. They usually make the effort to put healthy food on the menu, and let you know it's there. If you're ever in Reading, PA, then check out Good Eatz Green Cafe. They put steak and eggs on the dinner menu...AWESOME!!!

If you're eating out for lunch on the road, then you might want to consider dropping in on a grocery store. Most of the time, grocery stores are put right off an interstate, just like the fast food joints. It's way easier to find healthy food there than it is at the latter, or any other restaurant for that matter. Many of the have soup and salad bars, sandwich shops, cafes etc that make eating right very, very easy. Wegmans, found mostly in Western New York and Eastern Pennsylvania, excels in all of these. As far as I'm concerned, it's the best grocery store chain in the USA! I still managed to pick up a loaf of bread, a jar of almond butter, some cherries, dates, and a jug of milk at the utterly plain-jane Stop & Shop in Rhode Island. It's way better than Red Robin!

Tip number seven: WATCH THE COCKTAILS! Okay, we don't like alcohol when we're trying to stay fit because it's severely degrades our ability to work out like the maniacs that we are. Still, we'll sneak it in every now and then. Well, if you insist, steer clear of those fancy-ass, foofy martini menus! These things are almost as bad as the appetizers in calorie count, most of it being sugar. As we all know, it's probably worse to drink your calories than it is to eat them. So, screw the chocolate martini, cosmopolitan, and the peanut butter chocolate brownie mudslide(I made that one up, I think). Besides, these things are fucking prissy! CAN'T I JUST GET SOME ROOM-TEMPERATURE WHISKEY AND A GLASS TO PUT IT IN???? THAT'S ALL I WANT!!!

Ultimately, there's one tip that is valid in your home as it is in a restaurant. It's something that separates those who succeed at staying in shape and those who constantly fail: ask yourself if what you're ordering is really good for you! Then, answer honestly! Act accordingly...

I guess this is why I don't do one minute, fitness tips on the radio. Maybe some topics are best left put to writing. Either way, if you want to, keep these in mind every time you eat out. There's nothing written that you have to eat like the scooter-people every time you let a business make your food.

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