Eating In Restaurants On A Diet
“Nick Rhodes called and wanted to go to dinner. I was seeing Keith and Kenny and Ann Magnuson. Nick and Julie Anne wanted to eat so early though. They were insisting on 7:30 and we finally made it at 8:00 (cab 5$). Went to Mr. Chow’s and of course Nick and Julie Anne didn’t get there until 9:00 0r 9:15.” – Andy Warhol (The Andy Warhol Diaries edited by Pat Hackett)
Are you eating out nearly every night to avoid cooking? Here’s why you shouldn’t – not only will it be tough on your budget (unless your last name happens to be Rockefeller), even the best restaurants will serve food laden with fat, sugar and salt, because chefs know that it’s a surefire way of adding flavor. So how do you navigate that dilemma on a diet?
I love to cook, but I also enjoy sampling other great food, so I do enjoy the occasional night out. My only reservation is that I’m forever watching my waistline! I know there may be ingredients lurking in even the most innocent looking dishes, often unnecessarily. I’ve spent my life sampling food in some of the greatest restaurants around the world, then recreating those recipes into healthier translations at home. Sure, that Chicken Piccata below might taste richer when the sauce is finished with a few tablespoons of cold butter to thicken it, but my version is still packed full of flavor with less calories and saturated fat. To me, a thinner sauce (and body) is worth the sacrifice.
Vacations mean more restaurant meals
Summer is just around the corner, so many of us will be traveling – which could mean nothing BUT restaurant food will be available to you. So, do you know how to navigate menus to keep that swimsuit figure? Here are my top ten tips to restaurant eating on a diet:
1). Go early – don’t wait to go to dinner until you are famished, or you’ll be more likely to give into temptation and/or overeat. I keep most fattening foods out of my home, so menus tend to taunt me with more indulgent choices. My ex and I would argue about this on the road – he wanted to eat fashionably late, but I insisted on earlier meal times when I had to shed the excess baby weight after Tatjana was born. In fact our now infamous struggle over dinner time actually made it into Andy Warhol’s diary!
2). Avoid the bread. I don’t care how yummy it looks and smells – it’s empty calories you don’t need, and will spoil your appetite. Okay, so I like to run the B&B test on places I’ve never been before. My theory? If the bread is not freshly baked, the food will most likely suffer as well, and if the bathrooms are not sparkling clean, chances are the kitchen isn’t either. In some instances, I allow myself a nibble of the bread, but I try to avoid eating the whole piece, and especially the butter and/or dipping oil served with it.
Watch the beverages you consume
3). Watch the beverages you consume. Especially on holiday, those fancy cocktails can be appealing, but how much sugar do they have in them? The same is true for sodas, and while wine may help you digest your food – that doesn’t mean a whole bottle per person.
4). Choose broth based soups. Both the heat and the broth will help curb your hunger enough to prevent overeating, but the thicker creamier soups can use up your caloric intake before your entree arrives.
5). Beware of salads. People seem to naturally associate the word salad with weight loss, but did you know a Chinese Chicken Salad may have more calories than that burger you were really lusting after? Yes, salads may be full of wonderfully healthy ingredients, but ask for the dressing on the side, then lightly dip if you must. You can significantly cut the calories when you control the amount of dressing.
Dinner at Lucca in Des Moines last week
6). Avoid multiple courses, or choose wisely. If your hungry, and don’t want to wait for the rest of your table to finish a first course, choose something light like artichoke, asparagus, or a pasta dish in tomato sauce instead of cream or cheese sauce, then avoid having a second starch with your main course. When I had a three course dinner last week at Lucca – my favorite restaurant in Des Moines (which BTW has made giant culinary strides in attracting James Beard Award worthy chefs in recent years) I ordered the roasted carrots, followed by rigatoni Amatriciana, but then I stuck with the perfectly seared scallops and zucchini, without any potato or rice, for my entree.
7). Opt for grilled whenever possible. Most grilled poultry, meat, seafood, and vegetables will have already been rubbed or marinated full of flavor before the smokiness of the grill adds even more, plus any fat content usually drips away in the cooking process. I don’t think properly grilled foods really require melted butter or a sauce, but if the dish comes with one, ask for it to be served on the side, and treat it as you did the salad dressing – dip sparingly.
8). Don’t follow mom’s advice to clean your plate. Restaurants in the U.S. tend to serve absurdly large portions, so be aware. Ask for a doggy bag if you don’t want food to go to waste. Also, remember vegetables are your secret weight-loss weapon. They’re super filling and packed full of nutrients, so load up on them, and keep your protein and starch servings smaller.
9). Slow down, and stop to savor the delicacies! We’ve become such a fast-food nation we tend to inhale food so quickly we barely taste it. Did you know Harvard research has shown family dinners are more important than play time, story time and other family events in the vocabulary development of younger children? Not only will you eat less when you give your tummy time to catch up, your children may benefit too.
Flourless Chocolate Cake for the table at Lucca
10). Order one dessert for the whole table to share. Remember it should be about moderation, not deprivation. When I practice complete abstinence it makes me obsess about the food I’m avoiding. You’ll be prevented from eating more than a couple bites, and get that rich chocolaty flourless cake out of your system at the same time.
Lighten up and try my Chicken Piccata, and let me know if you really miss the extra 3 tablespoons of butter?
Tart lemon and brined capers perk your ho hum run of the mill chicken dinner into “more please” for both adults and children alike. This Italian classic is also traditionally prepared with veal, but I love to make it with turkey cutlets or halibut fillets for a delicious variation as well.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
4 teaspoons olive oil divided
2 chicken breasts boneless, skinless
salt and pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic 1 minced, and 1 thinly sliced
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1/4 cup fat free chicken broth
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons capers drained
1 lemon thinly sliced, seeds removed
2 teaspoons butter
1 tablespoon Italian parsley chopped
6 ounces fresh spinach washed
Mix the flour, and granulated garlic on a plate; set aside.
In a large sauté pan over medium heat, add 2 teaspoons of the olive oil, heat until you start to see ridges in the oil, about 1 minute.
While oil is heating up, dredge the chicken breasts in the seasoned flour, and shake off any excess flour before adding to the hot oil. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté 12-15 minutes (depending upon thickness) until going light golden brown then flip to cook on the other side until cooked through, an additional 8-10 minutes. Remove to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.
Meanwhile, while the chicken is cooking, heat the remaining oil and sliced clove of garlic in a large sauté pan over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the spinach, season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally until just wilted; remove from heat.
Add the remaining olive oil to the pan, then the garlic and cook 30 seconds or until fragrant. Deglaze the pan with the white wine (add wine to pan and scrape up any brown gooey bits on bottom of the pan). Let wine reduce by half, simmering for about 2-3 minutes. Add chicken broth, and lemon juice, capers and lemon slices, cook, stirring occasionally for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat, add parley and butter, and stir until melted.
Pour over chicken and serve, or cool and store.
Serve the chicken with sauce on top of a bed of spinach. If the sauce is too sour, add a pinch of sugar.