When the organic farm-to-table Austin restaurant isn’t the group choice for dinner and you find yourself walking into a Tex-Mex, Chinese, or Italian restaurant—there is no need to skip the scale tomorrow morning. Here’s how to enjoy your night out with friends and order healthy menu items without being that high-maintenance person.
Chinese food doesn’t require fried chicken swimming in sugar sauce—although a survey shows that the nation’s No. 1 ordered Chinese food menu item is General Tso’s Chicken. General Tso’s is made with dark meat, battered and fried, coated in sugar, and includes plenty of salt. MyFitnessPal clocks one cup of General Tso’s Chinese take-out at 293 calories and 17 grams of fat, and a full order as exceeding 1,300 calories. If you are not willing to order the steamed chicken and vegetables, there are plenty of tasty options you can have without breaking the calorie bank.
Choose brown rice over fried rice, and veggie spring rolls and steamed vegetable dumplings over fried egg rolls. You will leave satisfied and not miss out on anything but the calories.
Go for the wonton or hot and sour soup, chicken and broccoli, moo goo gai pan, or Buddha’s delight—a vegetarian dish to which you can add a lean protein.
Eating Tex-Mex doesn’t have to mean death by cheese and chips. You can have your chips and eat them too by deciding to just have a few and keeping count.
In general terms, choose corn tortillas, not flour—charro or black beans, not refried—lean grilled proteins, not cheese or heavy meats. Nix the cheese, sour cream, and creamy dressings on all dishes, or request those on the side.
Chicken fajitas are one of the healthiest menu items and perfect for sharing. Request corn tortillas, order a side of black beans, and top fajitas with pico de gallo and salsa. Fish tacos on corn tortillas are also a good choice. Alternatively, order a plated chicken fajita salad (not in a taco shell), and use salsa as your dressing.
The a la carte menu is a sure way to get exactly what you want. Order a taco al carbon with a side of black beans, and leave feeling satisfied. Some restaurants have smaller plate entrees that resemble an à la carte pairing, as well as “bowls” layered with greens, beans, avocado, and lean proteins.
Italian food need not imply carb loading. You can have your bread and eat it too by having only one piece of plain bread and dipping it in olive oil, not butter, and refusing the pre-buttered breads loaded with oils and fats. You can remove temptation entirely by requesting no bread at the table. To encourage portion control, keep in mind that one-half cup of plain pasta has 100 calories.
Start the evening with a salad, skip creamy dressings and opt for the vinaigrette, or order the dressing on the side. You can find grilled chicken, fish, and vegetables on most Italian menus, and many restaurants allow lunch portion orders at dinner. Instead of white and alfredo sauces, go for the red or olive oil and garlic sauces.
My personal preference is to order a salad and salmon or a salad and a side of meatballs. If it is pizza night, then choose the healthier Margherita, and eat your salad first.
Tex-Mex and a margarita go hand in hand. Lessen the indulgence with a skinny margarita or a shot of tequila to sip on. Choose a glass of red or white wine with Italian food, and a little sake with your Chinese meal. If you prefer a cocktail, then choose mixers without added sugars, such as club soda and a lime.
The best choice, however, is to drink water with a lemon or unsweetened tea. Know that alcohol comes with the price of extra empty calories and a lowered inhibition level that might lead you to eating more calories than necessary. The CDC recommends if you don’t drink alcohol, that you shouldn’t start. If you are a man, have no more than two drinks per day and if a woman, the guideline is no more than one. And, most importantly, don’t drive under the influence.