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The Daily Dish Food and Drinks

7 Ordering Tips for Hacking Menus to Eat Healthy No Matter What

If you see these words on the menu... keep reading.

By Marianne Garvey

Trying to be healthy? Eating out in restaurants can be difficult, with so much temptation and so much mystery in the menu items. How are you supposed to choose the right meal? Are there hidden ingredients in what you’re ordering, like butter and sugar?

The Feast asked Karen Moreno, New York City-based nutritionist, how to make healthy choices or substitutions on the menu, still have fun, and not make a high-maintenance scene while dining out.

Here’s what she suggested:

1. Plan ahead.

Log on to a restaurant's website, Menu Pages, or another online resource and look at the menu for the restaurant you’ll be going to ahead of time. “You can decide what you will order and it takes the stress out of having to make a quick decision while at the restaurant,” Moreno says. “If you know ahead of time that you are going to a restaurant, cut back on calories during other meals that day.”

2. Do not go to the restaurant hungry.

“Have a snack such as an apple or a handful of nuts one hour before going to dinner,” she says.

3. Once in the restaurant, order smart.

“Find out how the food is prepared. Do not be shy to ask,” Moreno says. If you pick the salad, make sure to include both fiber and protein, like chicken, salmon, eggs, beans, almonds, vegetables like artichokes, cauliflower, peppers, broccoli, asparagus, and tomatoes. Ask for a low-fat dressing on the side, and skip the croutons and cheese.

Healthy words to look for on a menu include steamed, broiled, baked, roasted, or grilled. Stay away from fried, sautéed, crispy, rich, or au gratin. Delicious, but not exactly healthy.

4. Do the swap.

Say no to sides like fries and replace it with a side salad or steamed vegetables.

Moreno says one major rule to having fun within moderated limits is to pick only one of the following while dining out: It's either the bread basket, alcohol, or dessert. Choose carefully.

5. Once your food comes, keep it moving.

Don’t clean your plate. Ask your waiter to take the plate away when you feel full. Ask for a doggie bag right away and take the leftovers home for a second meal. Share your food. Eat slowly.

6. Convenient can still be healthy.

If you’re craving fast food — or your schedule requires a quick drive-through meal — there are plenty of smart ways to order. Skip the condiments (or use sparingly), and ask the server to give you your meal sauce and mayo free. You can use a little ketchup, mustard, or barbecue sauce instead of cream-based sauce. Order the salad if the place has one, but watch out on the dressing; only use a little and make sure it’s low fat. Skip the side like fries or onion rings, and instead order a fresh fruit cup or side salad. Skip sugary sodas. Choose a no-calorie beverage like water, unsweetened iced tea, or diet soda. Try a grilled chicken sandwich over a burger, and if you order a second, skip the bun on that one. Load up on pickles, lettuce, peppers, grilled mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes — they are all healthy additions that will make your sandwich more hearty.

7. Remember, it's not that hard.

Say you go out for Mexican. Yum. Order guac and chips, but swap out the chips and order carrots and peppers instead. Skip the cheese and sour cream on your entree. At an Italian restaurant, Moreno suggests ordering marinara, piccata, and marsala. She says avoid alfredo, scallopine, and parmigiana (floured, fried, and baked with cheese). “Order an appetizer portion of pasta, pasta is not what makes you fat, it’s the large quantities and sauce that exceed your glycogen stores and end up being converted to fat.”

At a sushi spot, choose low-calorie miso soup, sunomono (salad with sliced cucumbers and rice vinegar), and edamame. Wasabi, soy sauce, seaweed, and pickled ginger are all good choices, while mayo, cream cheese, and various oils should be avoided.

Stay away from “crunch” and “tempura,” which means it was fried in lots of oil. Delicious, but fried in oil. 

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