Healthy Eating: Restaurant Survival Skills

Once you get practice in how to obtain a healthy meal, you should be able to use these principles and eat at almost any restaurant in the U.S.

Restaurant Survival

Jeff Novick, MS. RD. LD. LN,, is Director of Health Education for the National Health Association and nutritionist/dietitian for the prestigious McDougall Program in Santa Rosa, California. The following quotes are from his article, Restaurant Survival Skills

“Healthy food is unprocessed unrefined whole fresh fruits, vegetables, starchy vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, and in limited amounts, nuts, seeds, avocados, and if you choose to include it, lean animal protein.”

“Unhealthy food can’t be transformed into healthy food by a chef. Therefore, you will need to look for restaurants that offer these foods and have them available to you. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for failure.”

“Once you get practice in how to obtain a healthy meal, you should be able to use these principles and eat at almost any restaurant in the US.”
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That’s the kicker! From our own dining out experiences, the biggest problems eating in restaurants are:

  1. Huge servings of refined carbohydrates (e.g. white rice, pasta, bread)
  2. The generous use of trans-fats, saturated fat, and other fats of dubious origins e.g. genetically modified
  3. Excessive additions of salt, sugar, and cheese
  4. ‘Hidden’ ingredients – i.e. flavorings (such as MSG), preservatives and food coloring – quite toxic and IMO found in 99% of all restaurant food

99% of the time, there are no whole grains available (maybe some token ‘wheat’ bread) in restaurants. Ditto nuts, seeds, avocados, fresh fruits and legumes. Forget about organic!

My husband and I ate at a lot of restaurants on a recent three month road trip.

We weren’t realistically able to plan ahead, as we didn’t usually know where we might stop, and had no time to research, or hunt around in strange towns for just the right place. Gas station employees and motel owners were occasionally helpful, and sometimes we got lucky.
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We found, as Jeff suggests, that chefs and servers are often happy – or can be persuaded – to accommodate special dietary needs (e.g vegetarian or vegan), depending on what foods they have available.

The safest and tastiest places we found were locally owned ethnic restaurants where you can special order something that the restaurant workers might actually eat themselves.

Restaurants are in the business of selling food, and they’ll do whatever it takes to make it tasty. That means truckloads of calories!

On our trip to California, I gained ten pounds that I’m having trouble losing. I blame it on restaurants, but it might also have something to do with my tendency to eat lots of tasty food.

Whatever restaurants you visit, my advice is to go heavy on the veggies and light on the carbs. Skip the fried foods and dessert. Avoid all sauces and dressings unless after quizzing the cook, you’re satisfied they’re safe – better yet, assume they’re not.

As Jeff Novick suggests, make it your business to know all the restaurants in your area, where they are, what they serve and what they’ll do for you. That way you’ll be prepared when your family or friends want to give you a treat and take you out to a restaurant.

If you have to eat out on business, you can impress your colleagues with your restaurant knowledge and suggest several delicious options. Or, you could be one of those obnoxious people who makes a big fuss until everybody gives in and lets them choose the restaurant.

If you really want to stay fit and healthy, work for yourself at home, cook your own meals, exercise daily, and don’t eat at restaurants at all unless there’s no way you can get out of it!

When travelling, I take along a travelling kitchen and prepare my own food as much as possible. It’s by far the cheapest and most nutritious way to go anywhere. I’ve make cooking in motel rooms into a high art!

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