How To Dine Out Like A Health Pro
By Leslie Barrie
You’ve heard how diet-unfriendly dining out can be (2,120 calories for cheese fries with chili and ranch dressing at Chili’s!), but healthy, low-cal options do exist at your favorite chain restaurants. “You just have to know what and how to order,” says Cynthia Sass, R.D., author of “S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds, and Lose Inches.”
Many chains are expanding the healthy fare sections of their menus. Follow the lead of these famous diet doctors, nutritionists and trainers, who swap sauces, skinny up cocktails and even order off the menu.
Macaroni Grill – Debbie Koenig, chef and author of “Parents Need to Eat Too: Nap-Friendly Recipes, One-Handed Meals, and Time-Saving Kitchen Tricks for New Parents”
I’m ordering: Mediterranean Olives (split), Goat Cheese Peppadew Peppers (split), Pollo Caprese, White Peach Sorbet
“For a carb lover like me, it’s easy to overdo it at an Italian restaurant, but here they have more than enough healthy options to make me happy. I start with peppers and olives — you can’t beat their healthy fats — for the table.
The Pollo Caprese, a grilled chicken breast served with a small (read: normal-size) portion of pasta, plus an arugula salad, all for 560 calories, is perfect for one. To end the meal with something sweet, I get sorbet — at 160 calories, there’s no need to share!”
I would never get: Pasta Di Mare
“Even though it has seafood, 1,320 calories and 16 grams of saturated fat is just way too much for an entrée unless you’re splitting it three ways.”
California Pizza Kitchen - Cat Cora, Iron Chef and author of “Cat Cora’s Classics with a Twist”
I’m ordering: Thai Chicken Spring Rolls (split), Sedona Tortilla Soup (cup), Chinese Chicken Salad (half), glass of white wine
“The baked, not fried, Thai Chicken Spring Rolls come with a peanut dipping sauce — a little of it goes a long way! Then I order a cup, rather than a bowl, of the soup (273 calories), and a half salad (dressing on the side), which cuts the calories by almost half.
You can even make the soup lighter if you ask your waiter to hold the fried tortilla strips on top. To treat myself, I order a nice, crisp glass of white wine.”
I would never get: Meat Cravers Pizza
“Not only is it low in fiber and loaded with sodium, but it’s high in calories (1,490 calories; 31 grams of saturated fat).”
Applebee’s – Gunnar Peterson, celebrity trainer to A-listers (including Sofia Vergara and Kim Kardashian) in Beverly Hills, California
I’m ordering: Spinach Side Salad, Weight Watchers Cajun Lime Tilapia, Brownie Bite, glass of white wine
“I like having some greens at the start of my meal to keep my appetite in check, so I’ll ask for a small spinach salad (with olive oil and lemon on the side), which isn’t on the menu, but many locations will make it.
For my main dish, the tilapia (350 calories; 5 grams of fat) is just what I need to help fuel me, with its 36 grams of protein. I would kill a relative for chocolate — the brownie bite (360 calories) handles that craving but won’t put me over the top.”
I would never get: Spinach and Artichoke Dip
“You get it as an appetizer, which is when you’re the most hungry, so you’ll overeat it (at 1,510 to 1,620 calories and 99 to 110 grams of fat).”
IHOP – Alison Sweeney, host of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser”, star of “Hollywood Girls Night” and author of “The Mommy Diet”
I’m ordering: Simple and Fit Spinach, Mushroom and Tomato Omelette (split)
“The omelet I order is quite reasonable, only 330 calories. But even a healthy option like this is still an extremely large portion, so I split it with my hubby, then have the fresh fruit that comes with it all to myself.
Also, I’m never afraid to speak up for a trimmer meal: I ask the waiter to go light on the cheese.”
I would never get: Harvest Grain ‘N Nut Pancakes
“It’s one of those fake-outs — you read ‘grain’ and think it’s a healthier choice. But at 920 calories and 49 grams of fat, it’s totally not.”
Cheesecake Factory – Mario Lopez, host of “Extra” and author of “Extra Lean, Extra Lean Family” and “Knockout Fitness”
I’m ordering: Vodka on the rocks, SkinnyLicious Ahi Tartare (split), SkinnyLicious Fresh Vegetable Salad with Chicken, Low Carb Cheesecake
“To start, I go for a vodka on the rocks. A lot of people think a vodka tonic is clear so it must be low carb, but it’s actually loaded with ‘em, so I stick to the straight stuff. With it I order the avocado tuna tartare to split, which is good for protein and a healthy fat, although I don’t eat the chips that come with it.
My main dish is the vegetable salad (I order double the chicken) with vinaigrette on the side. It’s huge and filling with the added protein, but it still allows room for the Low Carb Cheesecake.”
I would never get: Memphis Burger
“It’s just too much going on — a burger topped with barbecued pork, melted cheddar, coleslaw, pickles and mayonnaise, not to mention it’s 1,300 calories and 29 grams of saturated fat.”
PF Changs – Ashley Koff, R.D., celebrity dietitian and co-author of “Mom Energy: A Simple Plan to Live Fully Charged”
I’m ordering: Steamed Vegetable Dumplings (split), Norwegian Salmon Steamed with Ginger, Small Garlic Snapped Peas, Gluten Free Flourless Chocolate Dome (split)
“I enjoy one or two steamed dumplings (45 calories each — they also have pan-fried, but skip those), lightly dipped in mustard or rice vinegar, which feels like a treat. I choose healthy brown rice with my entrée but keep it to a half cup.
Making a savings there leaves me room for gluten-free flourless chocolate cake — I split it with a friend. I choose it not because gluten free is necessarily ‘healthier,’ but rather because it’s made with the best, simplest ingredients.”
I would never get: Crispy Honey Chicken
“I won’t order crispy food like this (680 calories and 23 grams of fat a serving, and there are two servings per plate!).”
Chevy’s Fresh Mex – Kristin McGee, Health magazine columnist, celebrity yoga instructor, and star of 15 fitness DVDs
I’m ordering: Corona Light, with a lime, chips and salsa (split), two Soft Chicken Tacos (à la carte), Black Bean and Guacamole sides
“A Corona Light is only about 100 calories and the hops actually fill me up (although it’s important to stick to just one!). I may have some chips — I put a handful on a napkin or plate so I don’t reach back into the basket.
I do, though, have a free-for-all with the salsa. It’s so low cal, and the hot spices help rev up your metabolism. I’ll order my two soft tacos with corn tortillas (lower cal than flour) à la carte so I’m not stuck with unhealthy sides.
I would never get: Original Fajita Nachos with Steak
“They’re a whole lot of calories (1,220 calories and 77 grams of fat), even to split.”
TGI Fridays – Buddy Valastro, chef, author of “Baking with the Cake Boss”, and star of TLC’s “Cake Boss”
I’m ordering: Chicken Mediterranean Tapa-tizer Skewers (split), Petite Sirloin with broccoli, Kid’s Vanilla Ice Cream
“For the appetizer my family goes with the Mediterranean Skewers to share with grilled chicken, which is usually a safe bet, and the cucumber yogurt sauce is better than a mayo-based one.
For the main course, I go with the Petite Sirloin with no butter at only 370 calories. Pair it with broccoli and you’ve got a healthy decision. And I guess because I’m the ‘Cake Boss’, everyone expects me to get dessert. I order off the kids’ menu for a smaller portion.”
I would never get: Tuscan Spinach Dip
“While it sounds healthy — it’s got spinach, right? — it packs 1,000 calories and 61 grams of fat!”
Olive Garden – Michael Roizen, M.D., chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic, co-author of “You: On a Diet” and “You: Stress Less” and author of “RealAge”
I’m ordering: Minestrone Soup or Garden-Fresh Salad, Herb-Grilled Salmon with broccoli (split), Coffee, glass of Pinot Noir
“Minestrone soup is usually healthy as a starter, so I’ll order it with no croutons or cheese and a big salad.
Olive Garden has a great mixture of veggies in their salads, like tomatoes, carrots and olives. If I am sharing a meal I’ll choose the Herb-Grilled Salmon with broccoli. The salmon gives me omega-3s for my blood vessels, brain and eyes, and the broccoli is the best cancer fighter we know. I’ll have coffee during the meal and a glass of Pinot Noir as dessert.”
I would never get: A “food felon”
“Suffice it to say I try to avoid dishes that have one of the five food felons — saturated fat, trans fat, added sugar, added syrup or any grain other than whole grain.”
Chili’s – Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., dietitian and author of “The Flexitarian Diet”
I’m ordering: Caribbean Salad with Grilled Shrimp, Light “Beer-garita” (special made)
“My general rule when eating out: entrée plus one. This means I order my entrée plus either an appetizer, alcohol or dessert — not all three. My ‘plus one’ for this meal is a light beer-garita: a salt-rimmed glass with fresh lime juice and light beer (it isn’t on the menu, so just ask your waitperson). It’s fancier than just a beer but still only about 100 calories.
Then for my salad, I skip the dressing, so it’s probably around 450 calories. It doesn’t need dressing because the shrimp offer a satisfying grilled taste and the salad is loaded with flavorful green onions, fruit and cilantro.”
I would never get: Crispy Honey-Chipotle Chicken Crispers with Ranch
“It’s fried (at 1,660 calories and 76 grams of fat), so if you want a healthier version, get a grilled chicken breast with a side of Honey-Chipotle sauce (use it sparingly), and swap the fries for steamed veggies.”
Red Lobster – David Katz, M.D., director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center
I’m ordering: Garden Salad, Wood-Grilled Salmon, glass of white wine
“I want a good dose of fresh veggies whenever possible, so I never miss a chance to start my meal with a salad — I just ask them to hold the croutons, and give me extra greens instead. As for the fish, I get whatever is fresh and rich in omega-3s like salmon (490 calories and 17 grams of fat) — without additional sauces, which mask the flavor and adds calories. Plus, with just seasonings and lemon juice it’s delicious, as is!”
I would never get: The Admiral’s Feast
“The Admiral’s Feast is a whole lot of deep fried food (for 1280 calories and 73 grams of fat)!”
Ruby Tuesday – Brian Wansink, Ph.D., director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think”
I’m ordering: Double Ruby Minis sliders (split), salad bar
“Because I don’t want to go out to a restaurant and feel deprived, I get the beef sliders, enjoy one slider with a few fries, and let my kids finish the rest. Then I’ll order a steak dinner, which you can get with the salad bar (their salad bar is the reason why it’s my favorite chain!). The kids will split the steak, and I’ll fill up at the salad bar. I’ll choose all kinds of veggies and usually head back for seconds or thirds. By that time, I’m content to the point where dessert doesn’t even sound good.”
I would never get: “Too much. If I had the whole Ruby Minis plate (915 calories and 53 grams of fat for the plate, with fries), went to the salad bar, and ate the main steak sirloin course (564 calories; 29 grams of fat) it would amount to too many calories and leave me feeling completely stuffed.”
Outback Steakhouse – Connie Guttersen, R.D., Ph.D., bestselling author of “The New Sonoma Diet”
I’m ordering: Grilled Shrimp on the Barbie (split), filet and lobster tail (split), fresh steamed green beans, fresh seasonal mixed greens
“Before I even get to a restaurant, I remember my three B’s: watch out for bread, butter and beverages. At Outback, I start by sharing the grilled shrimp on the barbie with my table. Then for the main course I split the filet and lobster tail. It’s more than enough for two, plus, I try not to have over four ounces of lean protein when I’m dining out, and the filet alone is six. This entree also comes with two sides, so we can each have a veggie. As for dessert, I skip ones that sound healthy like carrot cake (one serving is 381 calories and 23 grams of fat) for fruit at home.”
I would never get: No Rules Parmesan Pasta, with grilled chicken.
“The creamy sauce is similar to an Alfredo sauce, which is high in saturated fat (1322 calories and 29 grams of saturated fat for the plate).”