In our busy lives, there’s just something wonderful about being able to eat out. Talented people prepare delicious food and bring it to your table… and all you have to do is enjoy it! Cooking is time-consuming, schedules are full, and eating out is a necessary part of life for most of us. However, trying to eat healthy when you eat out is a different story. Unknown preparation methods and hidden ingredients make restaurant meals a complicated affair. We all know eating fast food is diet sabotage, but did you know dine-in restaurants can be just as bad? In our experience, here are the top worst restaurant meals you can order:
Loaded Salads. Now, a good salad topped with a light vinaigrette and a few toppings is fine. Many restaurants, however, pack on the fat and sodium with copious amounts of cheese, fried protein, and more dressing than necessary. One Buffalo Chicken Salad we looked at had 1,040 calories and a whopping 3,470mg of sodium! Look for salads with grilled proteins, low-fat toppings, and ask for the dressing on the side.
Pasta dinners. We all know that creamy sauce and breaded chicken are going to taste great – but is it really worth over 2,000 calories? Cheesecake Factory’s Louisiana Chicken Pasta, for example, has 2,370 calories. For most of us, pasta will always fall in the “cheat” meal category. When you do decide to go for it, avoid completely blowing your diet by picking a dish with a simple marinara (or, better yet, fresh tomatoes and basil) alongside grilled protein and fresh veggies.
Lunch wraps. Deceptively marketed as healthier alternatives to traditional sandwiches or burgers, wraps are often every bit as high in calories and fat as their regular counterparts. Sometimes, they’re even worse because of how much more sauce some restaurants add! You’re better off sticking to the original or looking for a healthy salad.
Breakfast Meals. French toast, pancakes, bacon, egg scrambles, omelets… All delicious, but unfortunately, all also high in more sugar, sodium, and fat than you should eat at one meal. One popular chain’s Chorizo Omelette with Pancakes has 1,990 calories and 4,840mg of sodium. Choose your breakfast meals wisely, opting for veggie-heavy omelets and foregoing the cheese.
Mexican Food. In and of itself, most Mexican food is pretty healthy: beans, rice, lean meat that’s usually grilled, and some veggies. However, many restaurants also heap their dishes with so much sour cream and cheese it can’t be considered healthy anymore. One restaurant’s Chicken Fajitas had 1,300 calories and 4,800mg of sodium. When you order, ask for sour cream and cheese to be left off or served on the side so you can decide how much to eat.
Deluxe sandwiches. Between the spreads, cheese, and bacon you usually find on fancy sandwiches, you’re easily looking at over 1,000 calories. A good example of this is Cheesecake Factory’s Grilled Chicken and Avocado Club, which rings in at 1,400 calories. Choose an option with just a lean meat and veggies, and ask for any spreads on the side.
Pizza. Deep-dish pizzas loaded with sausage are calorie behemoths, sometimes containing as many as 2,300 in an individual-size serving! If you’re going to treat yourself, choose a thin crust and stay away from the fatty processed meats. It’s important to realize that most restaurants – especially larger, national chains – aren’t going to measure up to your standards of health. I’ve mentioned a few tips for navigating this throughout the article, but here are my best suggestions on how to order restaurant meals the healthy way:
• Ask for any and all sauces, schmears, and toppings on the side. This is where the bulk of your added calories, sodium, and fat come from. Getting them on the side puts you in control over how much (if any) you use.
• Swap fried for grilled. Most restaurants won’t have a problem switching a breaded protein with a grilled option.
• Look for lean proteins and lots of greens. If you’re debating between a few dishes, opt for the one that includes green veggies.
• Simple is better. The more complex a dish is, the more ingredients there are, which means the more probability there is of the dish being high in calories, sodium, fat, etc. More simply prepared dishes are usually (though not exclusively) healthier.
• Request less. Another trick is asking for less of a certain ingredient, or getting it on the side. One of my favorite pasta dishes is made with a base of olive oil, and I always ask for them to use half the amount. It still tastes great, and drastically reduces the calories of the dish.