If it’s hard for you to figure out what to order in a restaurant, you might be choosing items that aren’t healthy, but I’ll share some ways to decode restaurant menus so you can eat right without sacrificing taste. Those menu descriptions that make your mouth water are the key to finding a meal that doesn’t derail your health goals. That’s just one of many ways to decode restaurant menus, so read on for some tips you’ll use all the time.
1. Cooking Method
Many menu descriptions tell you how an item is cooked, even if it doesn’t say so in explicit words. When you order, and this is one of the key ways to decode restaurant menus, avoid items that are called crispy, which means they’re likely deep fried and high in fat and calories. Anything breaded is likewise fried, so you want to nix that from your options. Foods that are smothered, doused or basted are others to skip. Items that are grilled, broiled, baked, roasted or steamed are healthier alternatives.
Have you ever thought about why your steak glistens like a magazine photo? It’s usually because it’s doused in butter just before it’s brought to your table. Many restaurants mask the fact that they use low-quality ingredients by using sauces, condiments and garnishes to sneak in a yummy taste. The problem is that many of these items are very high in salt, sugar, fat and calories. Always ask for these items on the side so you can control how much you use.
As a general rule, seasonings are fat-free, but that doesn’t mean you can go crazy with them. Many contain large amounts of salt, which increases your risk of heart and blood pressure problems. Ask that your meats, vegetables and potatoes are lightly seasoned or ask that all seasoning be left off and do it yourself with salt and pepper at your table.
4. Sneaky Add-Ins
If you wonder why restaurant food tastes so much better than homemade, you’ve hit on a hidden cause of healthy meals turning unhealthy. I like to say food prepared for me always tastes better because I didn’t have to do any of the work. That’s not all though! Pureed vegetable soups are often beefed up with heavy whipping cream. In other words, added fat and calories. An otherwise healthy salad can be ruined when it’s covered with cheese, bacon bits and greasy croutons. If you’re unsure about hidden ingredients, ask your server or the chef how the item is prepared. Go ahead and claim food allergies if it makes you feel better about grilling restaurant staff before you order!
5. Serving Size
If you order something that calls itself generous, huge or good for sharing, chances are you’re about to consume way more fat, calories, salt and sugar than one person needs in a day. Some restaurant meals top out at thousands of calories, hundreds of fat grams and a few days' worth of sodium. There’s no reason why you can’t enjoy these choices on occasion, but it’s better to eat half and take the rest home or split the meal with a friend or your significant other.
The words on a menu that make you ravenous are there for a reason. They tempt you to order, but they don’t always indicate the health of an item. Something described as juicy, succulent, velvety, mouth-watering, delectable, luscious or sizzling are likely full of fat and calories. This is because they’re doctored up to be so delicious you won’t be able to resist. Keep this in mind when you order and you can get past the visuals and choose something tasty that won’t ruin your health goals.
7. Nutrition Information
If you’re in a restaurant that provides its nutritional information, either online or on site, you have a powerful tool for choosing a healthy item. Take a look at that burger or pasta dish and the straight facts might just be enough to guide you back for another look at the menu. If you decide to splurge, which let’s be honest is the stuff dreams are made of, balance your choices with the rest of your day’s meals.
What’s your favorite thing to order in a restaurant? I love a steak with a baked potato absolutely dripping with butter. Now and then, I have it, but I try to stick to better choices most of the time. How will this article help you make a good decision next time you eat out?