filed under Dining Out

5 Tips for Eating Healthy When Eating Out

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Kasey Fleischer Hickey

Guest Post By Kasey Fleisher Hickey

Kasey Fleisher Hickey blogs at her website, eating/sf, which focuses on pairing seasonal recipes with hand-crafted Musical Pairings, written by her husband Matthew. Together, Kasey and Matthew hope to introduce food and music lovers alike to the idea of adding music to their everyday culinary adventures. By day, Kasey is a PR and marketing strategist at a San Francisco-based startup.

I’m a big fan of comfort food—but not the traditional fried chicken type of food that you might associate with this group. To me, comfort food is all about carbs, sugar and cream. Plenty of fat, but not a lot of frying action. On my blog, eating/sf, I adapt and create recipes that tend to skew towards healthier comfort foods. I’ll post the occasional cinnamon roll and over-indulgent ice cream, but one of my favorite ways to approach food is to turn comfort into something nutritious. Here are five ways that I try to slip nutrition into even the most gluttonous-seeming recipes, and the ingredients that you should watch for when you’re eating out:

1. Grains, grains, grains.

Replacing white flour with whole grains is one of the easiest ways that you can turn a baked good into something that delivers some nutritional value while still being delicious. I love the complex flavor that whole wheat adds to chocolate chip cookies, pizza dough and cakes. Buckwheat flour is the key to some of my favorite pancakes. Recently, I discovered a whole new world of grains, thanks to a new cookbook called Good to the Grain by Kim Broyce. Since getting Kim’s book, I’ve been experimenting with oat flour, amaranth and more. Next time you’re making mac ‘n’ cheese, give whole wheat penne a try!

What to order at a restaurant: Watch for dishes that highlight healthier whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat (instead of udon) and whole wheat.

2. Eat your vegetables.

I try to make sure that I eat lots of fresh vegetables, particularly when they’re in season. But even when the freshest veggies aren’t available, my goal is to load up my meals with veggies. Whether I’m making eggs in purgatory (I add artichokes and potatoes for a one-pot meal) or pastas, stews and soups, vegetables are easy to incorporate and these dishes are as hearty and comforting as you can get.

What to order at a restaurant: Order hearty vegetable soups as starters and look for meat dishes that feature at least one vegetable side (instead of French fries or pasta).

3. Sugars: adding your own makes a difference.

When I bake at home, I’m able to have full control over how much sugar I put into a recipe. Oftentimes, recipes call for much more sugar than is really needed to make something taste satisfyingly sweet. I frequently cut down on the amount of sugar that I put into banana bread, muffins and even, yes, cinnamon rolls. Remember that when you’re cooking at home, you’re in control—you never have to eat something and think: this is WAY too sweet.

What to order at a restaurant: It’s hard to control sugar intake when you’re out at restaurants, so make sure you watch your portions. Fruit desserts are inevitably healthier than their cream and chocolate-based counterparts.

4. Dairy: 2% is OK.

I rarely ever have whole milk in my refrigerator. While non-fat milk resembles water to me, reduced fat milk is the perfect balance between light and substantive. Whether I’m making homemade yogurt or ice cream, I almost always go for reduced fat milk. Cheese is a whole other animal: when I want cheese, I fully indulge in creamy, whole-fat. You’ve got to pick your battles!

What to order at a restaurant: Don’t waste your dairy calories on drinks—opt for a low-fat cappuccino but split the dessert (or cheese plate).

5. Meat matters.

I’m a proud omnivore, but since my interest in food has turned into a full-blown passion, I’ve started to become more aware of the kind of food that I put into my body. Whenever I can, I try to pay attention to how much red meat I’m consuming. If I’m making meatball soup, I swap in some ground turkey for the beef, and one of my all-time favorite burgers is actually vegetarian: it’s a mix of beans, beets and brown rice. Comfort doesn’t have to be a health bomb—creativity counts!

What to order at a restaurant: Craving a burger? Try the turkey one—or veggie. You’d be surprised at how good they are!

So there you have it, comfort—comfortably healthy!

  • Justin C

    I need to jump on this quinoa train. It seems like everyone is talking about it!

  • Nikki J

    Justin, I can't believe you haven't tried quinoa yet! Try it with curry. Yum.

  • Christinareck

    A great source of info! I will be sure to check out Good to the Grain by Kim Broyce, because there always seems to be conflict in opinions when it comes to grains and which is best for you! Good to know that the 2% milk is something that I am doing right!

    • Nikki J

      I’ve tried several recipes from Good to the Grain and they were all super tasty! Especially the Buckwheat Poppyseed Wafers.

  • Derica Spieker

    Turkey and veggie burger sounds mouthwatering! Got any recipe for those? Vegetable soup when dining out is very healthy as an appetizer, and fruits for dessert. But if you’re going to have some ice cream, drink a lot of water instead of juice to balance the sugar level.