By Jana Soeldner Danger
City & Shore Magazine
How can we make smarter, healthier choices when dining out?
Start by planning ahead, says Lillian Craggs-Dino, a registered dietician and nutritionist with Cleveland Clinic Florida. Many restaurants today post menus on their websites, and it’s easier to review selections before arriving. “Look for foods that are grilled, baked or poached instead of fried or creamy,” she says.
Choose restaurants that offer locally sourced produce and seafood, adds Stacy Winton, a clinical dietician with Memorial Healthcare System. “There’s likely to be less processing and less travel time, so they’re fresher,” she says.
Don’t try to save calories by not eating on the day of a restaurant visit. “If you’re starving when you arrive, you’re more likely to overdo it,” Craggs-Dino says.
In many restaurants, bread arrives as soon as guests sit down. “If the bread is mediocre, don’t waste calories on it,” Winton says. Or, “tell them not to bring it,” Craggs-Dino says.
A salad is not necessarily low-calorie. “If it’s loaded with dressing and croutons, there go your good intentions,” Winton says. “Some restaurants fry their croutons, and bread is a sponge that soaks up oil.”
Smaller can be better
Many restaurants offer a variety of interesting starters. “Skip the entrée and order a couple of appetizers,” Craggs-Dino suggests.
“The portions are usually smaller,” Winton says. “You can create your own tapas meal.”
Can’t resist an entrée? “Share a dish,” Craggs-Dino says.
No one wants to share? “Cut the entrée in half,” Winton says. “If you’re satisfied once you eat half, ask the server to pack up the other half for you.”
A stricter option for avoiding temptation: “Have them cut the dish in half in the kitchen and wrap half up before you see it,” Craggs-Dino says.
Don’t be afraid to make special requests such as having a fish entrée baked instead of fried. “A lot of restaurants are very accommodating,” Craggs-Dino says.
The server will inevitably ask about dessert. “Go for fresh fruits,” Winton says.
Or, “skip dessert and end with a cup of coffee,” Craggs-Dino says. For those who simply can’t resist a rich, heavy dessert, “It should be shared by the whole table,” she says.
Drinks can pack a calorie wallop. “Cocktails with sugary syrups and cream can really add up,” Winton says. “Instead, choose a clear alcohol and a clear mixer.”
“Even sweetened iced tea has calories,” Craggs-Dino says.
But eating smarter doesn’t have to mean feeling deprived, Winton says. “You can have scrumptious meals and still make healthy choices.”
Restaurateurs: Doing their part
Restaurateurs are making changes to meet growing demand for more healthful selections. “We’re seeing more gluten-free options, as well as restaurants making an effort to provide lighter fare,” says Amanda Handley, a spokeswoman for the Tallahassee-based Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. “There’s been an uptick in locally sourced dishes or farm-to-table establishments.”
Here’s what a few local eateries are doing:
Jessie Steele, executive chef at Death Or Glory in Delray Beach, has added more vegan and vegetarian dishes to the menu. “I look at dishes I like that aren’t vegan and try to find meat substitutes that are plant-based,” he says.
Ervin Machado, beverage director and sommelier for Big Time Restaurant Group, is offering cocktails made with kombucha at City Oyster and Sushi Bar in Delray Beach. The ancient drink is a fermented tea brewed with a live bacterial culture rich in probiotics and is credited by many with a variety of health benefits. There’s even a nonalcoholic flight.
Simon Porter, executive chef at The Balcony on Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale, says more customers are opting for salad instead of fries and asking for the dressing on the side.
He looks for ways to create lighter versions of his often rich Southern-style dishes, such as making sweetcorn bisque with coconut milk and vegetable stock instead of cream, and a vegan version of rice and beans.
“We’re definitely looking at ways to give options to people who want them,” he says.