Many people are making transitions in their diets and are more focused on health. They are making better choices and choosing foods that are good sources of nutrients while being low in fat, cholesterol, salt and processed sugars. The downside to this is that many of these people work very hard to put together healthy meals at their house, but then are less or entirely unable to do so while eating out. Hillsborough County is filled with great restaurants from Tampa to Plant City, so we should be able to take advantage of them and be healthy.
Know a Little about Cooking
You do not have to be a chef to know a little about cooking processes. Most menus will even tell you how things are cooked; you just need to decipher the descriptions on the menu.
These are (usually) healthy methods
- Baking- Applying dry heat to food and letting the heat do the work, generally done in an oven.
- Grilling- Cooking food on a grate (a grill) above a heat source such as an open flame.
- Roasting- A dry-heat cooking method that can be done in an oven, over fire or even under coals. Roasting and baking are very similar methods, but are technically different and the terms may be used on the same menu.
- Broiling- Yet another method that involves applying dry heat to a piece of food. The exception here is that broiling involves high temperatures and the heat is directly applied to the food. Baked and roasted food are merely in a hot oven, while setting your oven to broil turns up the amount of heat that the heating element dispels.
- Steaming- Using steam to cook food and nothing else. This is low-calorie as steam is literally just water.
Skip These Methods
- Fried- Most people are familiar with this method of immersing food into hot oil.
- Sautéed or Pan Fried- Technically these methods are different from a culinary standpoint but just know that both involve putting oil into a pan and using the heated oil (often butter) to cook food, which adds fat and cholesterol.
What Else Can I Ask For?
Now that you know how your food should be cooked, you are ready to order specifically. Be aware that a lean piece of meat can be broiled (so far very healthy)–but then smothered in a sauce that is based in butter and heavily salted (so much for being healthy). Even healthy vegetables lose some of their luster once the kitchen coats them in butter, salt and, surprisingly, in some cases even sugar. To cut down on calories and eat a little healthier while you are out, try these tips:
- Start with salad- Beginning with greens and fresh vegetables not only ensures you get nutrients, but it also helps you fill up before the macaroni and cheese shows up on the table. Choose low-fat vinaigrettes as opposed to favorites like ranch, blue cheese or even honey mustard.
- Sauce on the side- Go ahead and try the sauce that the menu recommends, but get it on the side. You will find that you need considerably less than the kitchen gives you most of the time when you make the switch and dip your food into the heavier sauces. The same rule should be applied to salad dressings.
- Smaller Portions- Some restaurants will provide a smaller portion if it is requested. If not then ask for a box and take some of your entrée home. You never know–you might have lunch or dinner the next day.
- Skip the butter- Ask your server to have the kitchen eliminate butter from your entree. You would be surprised how many kitchens will do this willingly, from privately owned eateries to large corporate chains. If your entrée needs a cooking agent request margarine, olive oil or vegetable oil.
- Remember your goal- Eating healthy should not be forgotten at a restaurant. If you have been choosing lean meats and vegetables at home, do not order prime rib and mashed potatoes with gravy every time you go out. It is certainly acceptable to splurge every once in a while, but do not make it a habit.
- Enjoy your company- You need to eat enough to be full, not enough to “clean your plate.” Take time to talk to the people you are dining with and enjoy a conversation. You will eat slower and realize that you can fill up without eating every last bit of food served to you.
Being better informed and planning to make healthy decisions are stepping stones to better health in general. Apply these principles when you go out to make health a priority all the time.