“Playing the Menu Game”
When I graduated from college (with a major in Theatre), I found myself working in food service. I’d love to share what I learned from that experience.
This breaks down into 2 tips for eating healthy at any restaurant:
- Be an detailed observer when you enter the premises
- Scour the menu carefully before making a decision
Here is what I learned:
If the restaurant has it in the kitchen… it’s fair game to order (even if it’s not listed on the menu).
Here’s what I mean…
Let’s imagine you are walking into a Seafood restaurant for this example…
As you enter, you see lots of lemons in water glasses and on the side of people’s entrees.
This should ALERT you that the restaurant is definitely stocked with lemons in the back (side note: most places are).
With that knowledge, when you go to order, it’s safe to assume you can order a side of lemon to dress your salad, or top your fish, etc….
Okay… Let’s assume the salad you want to order comes with an Asian style dressing, or a homemade buttermilk ranch (neither one the best choice for you)…AND…there is no lemon listed on the menu for your dressing options …
..PANIC starts to set in and you think, oh well, I guess I’ll just eat the salad dry…OR…I guess I’ll just take the dressing that upsets my stomach…OR…no salad for me today..
WAIT! DON’T PANIC… You already know that there are lemons on hand in the establishment (even if they are not listed on the menu)….Why? … You already saw them in water glasses, remember?
You are now “in the know” just from being observant and have a leg up! You know that you can easily order a lemon to dress your salad with. There should be no problem accommodating you because the restaurant has what you need. (I’ve even done it at airport grab and go places with success.)
At the end of the day, the establishment wants you to be happy with your experience, and you won’t be happy if the experience was not hospitable and the food you ate was bland because you couldn’t have the soy laden dressing (for example). Also, don’t be afraid to ask for more if they don’t bring enough. (I brought plenty of side plates with extra lemons when I was a waitress. It’s not a big deal.)
This is a simple trick to add to your “eating right” arsenal. All you have to do is pay close attention to the plates of food around you when you enter a restaurant. In some cases, I do this before I even decide to sit down in a restaurant. When you get good at it, you start to be able to deconstruct and rebuild meals in your head and know if you’d like to eat somewhere before you even walk in.
This applies to more than just lemons. Get creative….Maybe you love hot sauce.
The next step in your full proof plan for eating well while ordering out is:
Scouring the Menu…
Here’s an example:
Now we’re at a burger joint…
On the menu:
Salads: Entrees: (all come with fries, bun, lettuce, pickle, onion)
Iceburg Wedge Salad Burger Choices:
Caesar Salad Salmon
Mixed Greens Salad Turkey
Tex Mex Salad Beef
Let’s say none of the salads appeal to you because you want to feel like you “went out to eat”. And you WANT a burger, but not the fries or the bun because you want to “stay on track” while eating out. You don’t want to be a pain but you also want something that’s both nutritious and delicious. Is it possible? What do you do?
You deconstruct the ingredients on the menu and re pair them.
In this case, you can take one of the burger patties and pair it with the salad that most appeals to you.
Here’s something I might order (after asking if there was breading, soy, or dairy in the burger). Let’s assume we get a green light.
Me: “May I please have the Caesar Salad with no dressing, no cheese, no croutons? (This means just Romaine lettuce as that is all a Caesar salad is without the dressing, etc.).”
“I’d also like to add the Salmon burger patty to the top of my salad.”
“May I also have a side of lemons to dress my salad?”
*Psssst…I just avoided the bun and fries altogether by putting the salmon on a different plate. PHEW! …AND, I built my own salad with the available ingredients to me. It will be both delicious and nutritious! And the salmon will still make this meal out feel like a “treat”! (HIGH FIVE!).
As I mentioned, I’ve already scoured the menu and the plates around me, so I know all of this IS possible. It’s going to be a “Go”.
When the salad comes to the table. I squeeze the lemons on top and add some salt and pepper. Perfection!
Another great way to deconstruct and reconstruct is to:
Pay attention to “Appetizers” and “Sides”:
I will often order lettuce leaves to dip into appetizer dips (instead of chips or crackers)…
I will order 2 appetizers as my meal….
Ex. Soup and crudité. Or soup and salad.
As for “Sides”. This section of the menu is your friend.
This is where restaurants usually stash the good stuff, like Mashed sweet potatoes, and grilled asparagus.
If I’m eating out, you can pretty much guarantee that I’ll be ordering something additional from this section. I might even add a “side of asparagus” to the aforementioned Salmon salad order.
I hope you found this helpful for your next trip out to eat!
If you want lemon for your salad, or a lettuce wrap for your tacos, don’t be afraid to ask, if they have it, they can give it to you!
Happy and healthy to you. Let me know if these tips work for you!