In order to avoid the inevitable weight gain that comes with frequently dining out, I’m a big believer in eating off of the appetizers menu. That said, it behooves us to make wise choices when ordering from the appetizers menu, as there are many that appear “healthy” and nutritious, yet aren’t.
So how can you ensure you are making wise choices? Here are some great tips:
- Salads: Although salads are often found on the appetizers menu, they can easily be made into a meal. Remember, however, that many salads are loaded with unhealthy ingredients causing them to be very high in calories and fat. Here’s how to ensure that your salad is the healthful meal you are looking for:
- Those made with a wide variety of vegetables, dark-leafy greens (such as spinach) and/or fresh fruit.
- If you are choosing a salad as a meal, make sure it comes with lean protein. If it doesn’t, ask the waitstaff to add grilled chicken, salmon or beans.
- Vinaigrette dressings, or even better, olive oil and vinegar. Always have the waiter or waitress bring prepared dressings on the side and use them sparingly. To minimize overuse, dip a fork into the dressing and wipe the tongs on top of the salad. Pouring it directly onto the salad or using a spoon can often result in over-consumption.
- Those with cheese, nuts or sour cream. More often than not, restaurants overload these items onto salads. Either eliminate them or ask for them on the side so that you can limit how much you eat.
- Tortilla chips or strips, wontons, noodles and croutons. Most of these are fried and end up adding lots of empty calories to an otherwise healthy salad.
- Red meat or pork, fried chicken or fried fish. You can easily substitute these for healthier options, such as with grilled chicken or fish.
- Cream or mayo based dressings. (E.g., Ranch, Blue Cheese, Thousand Island, French). Substitute oil and vinegar or a vinaigrette, just as you would make substitutions for other unhealthy ingredients.
- Soups: Other seemingly wise choices from the appetizers menu are soup items. Unfortunately, just like salad, they can quickly turn unhealthy and high in saturated fat if they are made with butter, oil and/or cream or dairy (cheese).
- Wise choices include those made with broth or stock. If the name or ingredients listed don’t make it clear, ask the waitstaff.
- Just as with salads, you want lots of vegetables in your soup and if you are treating soup as a main course, make sure it contains some protein, such as fish, chicken or beans. Some healthier favorites include Manhattan Clam Chowder, Gazpacho, Minestrone and Chicken Noodle.
- Those made with cream, cheese or milk. (E.g., Bisques, New England Clam Chowder and Broccoli Cheese).
- Those that are half-healthy. Look at all the ingredients. For instance, Onion Soup is a healthy choice, but French Onion Soup isn’t. The bread and cheese add tons of extra calories and fat.
- Other Items: Personally, I love ordering two items off of the appetizers menu (such as a salad and steamed mussels) to keep my portions under control. Also, ordering a couple of things from the appetizers menu allows you to pace yourself with others at the table. That said, many are fried or greasy, so beware.:
- Those made with vegetables or grilled vegetables.
- Those with grilled, boiled or seared lean meats (E.g., Chicken skewers).
- Fish that is cooked or sushi style (E.g., Shrimp Cocktail, steamed mussels, clams, tuna sushi roll).
Avoid: When dining with colleagues, many times people will order items from the appetizers menu for the table. You may not have full control over what is ordered, but you can decide what you will and won’t eat.
- Items that have been fried (E.g., fried shrimp, chicken fingers, fried dumplings, jalapeno poppers, etc.)
- Those made with or that contains a lot of cheese (E.g., cheese fritters, nachos, baked brie, etc.)
- Dips that come with chips, pita or bread (E.g., artichoke/spinach dip). Although some dips are healthy, such as hummus and fresh made guacamole, the chips, pita or bread isn’t. If you can dip with veggies, you are much better off.
How do you ensure you make wise choices from the appetizers menu?