The other day we went to a chain restaurant in California for lunch. California state law requires restaurants with 20 or more establishments to post the calorie information for every menu item directly on the menu. While we were reading through the various menu items, I briefly glanced over the burger section and saw that the bacon cheeseburger (without the fries) had about 800 calories. My, that burger sounded so good. However, I was looking to eat a lighter lunch, preferably between 400 to 500 calories. So I perused on to the salad section and was horrified to see that the “lightest” salad (besides the basic house salad which consisted of some lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and red onion) averaged about 1,000 to 1,200 calories! Once again, what one person thought may be healthy was not. These salads were astronomical due to items such as breaded chicken, or various cheeses, or croutons, or bacon, or fried won ton crunchy pieces, or heaping quantities of dressing that drenched the greenery.

I was appalled at the salad options. Luckily, they had a section on the menu for the “lighter” fare and not one of their entrée-style salads was listed. This section included half portions of the sandwiches with a side salad (dressing on the side, too). I went with the lighter fare. The moral of this story is to remember that anyone can demonize vegetables and sometimes what we think is the healthiest item available, may not be.

The goal when dining out is to enjoy the foods you love in moderation. My best recommendations are the following:

  • Focus on the protein source first. Grilled, baked, or broiled is lightest.
  • Second, try to incorporate vegetables into the order such as getting a side salad with dressing on the side, or roasted vegetables, or grilled vegetables. Hold the sautéed veggies, it usually results in an excessive amount of oil or butter.
  • Finally, enjoy some form of grain/starch to keep satisfied and get your carbohydrate fix in the right portion for you. Finding this balance can help.

Sarah Koszyk, MA, RD, is a nutrition coach at Eating Free who cooks with love and loves to eat.

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