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Start Your Restaurant Meal off Right!

Natalie
Stein
October 20, 2019
Start Your Restaurant Meal off Right!
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The Lark DPP mission has, so far, brought up tons of strategies for eating healthy at restaurants. Hopefully, the message is clear that it is possible to eat well and eat out with a little (or a lot) of awareness.

The most recent check-in brought up part of the restaurant experience that may not always get much attention, but that can change the course of the whole meal. The starters or appetizers and beverages served before the meal warrant serious attention if you are to come away from the restaurant without feeling weighed down.

Why Worry about Apps?

Appetizers and starters were originally intended to whet the appetite, but restaurants have taken them to new levels. An order commonly has 500 to 1,000 or more calories. Though they may be shared amongst everyone at the table, it is still easy to down a high amount of calories in just a few bites because they tend to be calorie-dense (a lot of calories in a small serving) because of their fats and starches. Cocktails can add 100 to 200 each.

Beware the Auto-Eating

Food may enter your mouth without you even thinking about it as soon as you sit down. Sometimes, it happens before you sit down, if the restaurant offers peanuts or other snacks to customers who are waiting for a table. Once seated, and without being asked, the server may bring a chips with salsa, bread or dinner rolls with butter or breadsticks with oil. A small serving may have 200 calories, but it is easy to eat more since these foods are delicious, within reach, and unlimited.

The surest way to avoid these bottomless calorie pits is to keep them away by asking your server not to bring them. If your table mates insist on having them, ask them to allow you to place them out of your reach so you do not automatically reach for them and eat them for the 10 to 30 minutes before your first course comes. A glass of ice water can help keep you occupied during this time.

Safe Bets

There are some choices for appetizers that are not laden with fat and carbohydrates. In general, pure proteins and natural vegetables are the best bets. These are some items to seek at a classic family restaurant.

  • Shrimp cocktail
  • Raw vegetables with salsa, hummus, or guacamole
  • Boneless wings with marinara sauce
  • Roasted brussels sprouts or artichokes

It is often possible to make something good out of a starter that started off, well, less good. Many dishes have something good about them. If you would rather not order a starter but your eating companions insist, you may be able to make do by:

  • Eating the chicken or beef without the bun in the slider.
  • Removing breading from shrimp, artichokes, or mushrooms before eating them.
  • Asking for raw celery or other vegetables to dip instead of pita, chips, or bread.
  • Picking out the vegetables and olives from an antipasto platter.

Choices to Limit

The list of unhealthy appetizers is long. Signs of trouble may be fried foods, battered foods, cream dips, fatty meats, potatoes, and too much cheese. These are some common menu items that can be high in calories and pretty bad for health.

  • Fried chicken wings and buffalo chicken.
  • Creamy dips, including ranch, buffalo sauce, and spinach and artichoke.
  • Potato skins and potato wedges.
  • Onion rings, onion petals, zucchini sticks, and battered mushrooms and cauliflower.
  • Mozzarella sticks.
  • Pigs in blankets.

No matter what, size matters. A single buffalo wing, pig in blanket, or mozzarella stick may have only 80 calories, even though it has little in the way of nutrition. Whatever ends up on your table, you can have a taste without doing damage to your entire meal.

Type of Restaurant Go! No! Chinese, Thai, or other Asian

  • Crispy green beans
  • Steamed edamame
  • Seaweed salad

  • Chips
  • Egg rolls
  • Dumplings and potstickers

Mexican

  • Ceviche
  • Salsa or guacamole with vegetables

  • Chips
  • Nachos
  • Quesadillas

Italian

  • Olives
  • Artichokes
  • Mushrooms
  • Bruschetta (without the bread)

  • Breadsticks
  • Antipasto and other cured meat platters

Mediterranean

  • Pickled vegetables
  • Hummus with vegetables
  • Eggplant caviar
  • Stuffed grape leaves (dolmades) - just 1

  • Falafel
  • Stacks of pita
  • Kibbeh
  • Tabouleh

Indian

  • Chicken tandoori
  • Raita with roti
  • Papadam (small serving)

  • Naan and garlic naan
  • Samosa
  • Bhaji
  • Pakora

Soup or Salad as an Alternative

Soup or salad can be a good choice if the rest of your party wants to order apps but none of the starters listed on the menu are suitable for you. The server should be willing to bring out your soup or salad while the others are eating their appetizers.

A small green salad can be a low-calorie choice. The classic iceberg, lettuce, and cucumber salad can have fewer than 50 calories, and fewer than 100 calories if you get light dressing or order dressing on the side and use only a small amount. Caesar salad with romaine and shredded parmesan can also work. Skipping the croutons can save 50 to 200 calories.

A thin or chunky soup can not only be satisfying, but may also aid in weight loss as people who start a meal with chunky soup tend to eat fewer calories overall at that meal. Opt for broth-based soups over those with cream or cheese to save on calories and fat, and know that pureed potato soups are high in carbs.

Lower-Calorie Soups Higher-Calorie Soups Lower-Calorie Soups">

  • Minestrone (if no sausage)
  • Vegetable soup
  • Hot and sour soup
  • Egg drop soup
  • Wonton soup
  • Tom yum vegetable soup
  • Chicken noodle or rice (may leave the noodles or rice if there is too much)

  • Potato or loaded potato soup
  • Cream of mushroom, asparagus, tomato, chicken, or anything else
  • Clam or corn chowder
  • Broccoli cheese soup

Smart Beverages

The same automated response that leads you to say "yes" when the server asks if you want a breadstick can lead you to say "yes" when the server asks you if you want a drink before the meal. Cocktails and aperitifs can have 100 to 200 calories each. Not only that, but the alcohol in them can lead you to let down your guard, encouraging you to eat more and choose less healthy items than you might normally choose when not drinking.

Ice water and unsweetened tea or coffee (consider decaf in the afternoon and evening) are great ways to start your meal. They are not only calorie-free, but can help fill you up so you are likely to eat less at the meal. Plus, they give you something to do, so you can sip your drink instead of reaching for another egg roll.

Eating a healthy appetizer can help put your restaurant meal on the right track. It is entirely possible when you are ready to order well from the moment you set foot in the restaurant.

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