Who doesn’t like celebrating the end of a week by going out to a restaurant? With summer in full swing, sitting out on a restaurant patio can be a relaxing way to spend time with family and friends. Most people want to make a “healthy” choice when eating out. However, menu options can be surprisingly deceiving and sometimes our good intentions backfire.
One of the biggest deceivers: salads. While selecting a salad may seem like a safe bet, this is often not the case. The main cause of this deception is salad dressing. Think of how big a salad is at a restaurant. You need a whole lot of salad dressing to cover all those leaves. Even the calories in lower calorie salad dressings quickly add up. On top of this, there are usually lots of “extras” in restaurant salads, such as cheese, croutons, seeds, bacon bits etc., that cause calories to quickly add up. Still don’t believe me? Here are some real life scenarios. The Caesar salad with crispy chicken at McDonalds contains 730 calories compared to 410 calories in a cheeseburger and small fries. At East Side Mario’s, the Tuscan chicken salad contains 550 calories compared to 460 calories in two slices of Hawaiian pizza with a side garden salad.
Another issue with salads is that they often leave us feeling unsatisfied. Most people would feel they fixed their “junk food” craving after eating a couple slice of pizza compared to after eating a chicken salad. People also often underestimate the calories in salads. They feel that because they “just” ate a salad they are entitled to more food. They start supper with an appetizer, finish up dinner with a dessert or eat the fries of their friend’s plate (yes, those calories still do count). I’m not saying, “Don’t order a salad.” If this is your favourite food to eat, then by all means order your salad. However, don’t think your salad is a better choice then your friend’s cheeseburger and fries.
Salads aren’t the only deceiving “healthy” food options at restaurants. A “whole grain” carrot orange muffin from Tim Hortons contains 360 calories compared to 190 calories in maple dip donut. Also at Tim Hortons, there are 230 calories in a French onion soup compared to 120 calories in minestrone soup. And don’t forget about beverage calories. A medium Tim Hortons Iced Capp contains 360 calories, a Starbucks grande vanilla frappucino, 430 calories and a McDonalds mango smoothie, 260 calories.
All this being said, I am a strong believer that there are many good options at restaurants. Some of my favourites include a turkey breast sub on 9-grain bread from Subway, chili and garden salad from Tim Hortons or a chicken breast pita from Pita pit. Healthy eating doesn’t need to be complicated!
Here are some other quick tips for eating out:
- If nutrition information is available, use it. As you can see from the above examples, the nutrition information of food is not always intuitive. You cannot always tell if something is a healthy option just by its name. Nutrition information is readily available. Use it to your advantage!
- Watch your condiments. The calories in condiments can easily add up. If you can live without higher calorie condiments such as creamy salad dressings, mayo, butter, sour cream, chipotle, gravy etc., ask that they be held. Some lower calorie options are ketchup, salsa, mustard, relish, soya sauce. If you’re ordering a salad, ask for dressing to be on the side so that you can watch your portion.
- Hold the extras: Again, if you can live without croutons, bacon bits, fried noodles, tortillas and cheese, ask that they not be added to your food. This may save some extra calories.
- Read the wording: Avoid foods that are described as crispy, fried, sautéed, batter-dipped or breaded. This often means extra fat has been added during the cooking process. Instead, opt for grilled, roasted or poached foods.
However, if these tips are going to make your food taste awful, then there is no point in making these minor changes. As I’ve written before, satisfaction with what we eat is key to weight loss. Satisfaction comes when we enjoy the food we eat. If your food no longer tastes good, then it’s not worth the extra calorie savings. If the only reason your potato tastes good is the dollop of sour cream, then keep it on and enjoy every bite!
On July 18th I will be holding a free nutrition seminar on the top 5 nutrition myths. For more information, please go to my Facebook page: Megan Kuikman Registered Dietitian.