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Do You Eat Healthy Away From Home?

Do you feel like you make healthy choices when you go out to eat?

Do you always opt for a salad or a vegetarian meal because you think, "surely those must be the healthiest options?!"

We want to take you on a visit to a few popular restaurants this week and see which of these options you would choose if you were trying to make "the healthy choice."


Our first stop is the "neighborhood bar and grill," Applebee's.

Which of these menu items would you choose?


Applebee's Bourbon Street Chicken & Shrimp:  Let the good times roll with Cajun-seasoned chicken and blackened shrimp in buttery garlic and parsley served sizzling on a cast iron platter with sautéed mushrooms and onions. Served with garlic mashed potatoes.


Applebee’s Grilled Oriental Chicken Salad:  A long-running favorite, grilled chicken top a bed of Asian greens, rice noodles, with our Oriental vinaigrette on the side. Served with a golden brown signature breadstick brushed with buttery garlic and parsley.


Next, let's head to Chili's.

Which of these do you think is healthier?


Chili’s Black Bean and Veggie Fajitas:  Black bean patty, roasted asparagus, sauteed mushrooms, corn & black bean salsa, queso fresco, avocado & a drizzle of spicy Santa Fe sauce. Includes fajita toppings and flour tortillas.


Chili’s Alex’s Santa Fe Burger: Stacked high with avocado, pepper Jack, red onion, roasted jalapeños, tomato, pickles, cilantro & spicy Santa Fe sauce.


Now, for some "authentic, crave-worthy Tex Mex," let's head over to On The Border.

Pick one of these meals:


On the Border Veggie Quesadilla:  Zucchini, squash, peppers and Jack cheese. Served with guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo.


On the Border Honey-Chipotle Shrimp Tacos:  Two tacos with crispy-fried shrimp, hand-tossed in honey-chipotle sauce with cilantro, spicy avocado ranch and shredded cabbage.


For our final stop today, let's pick up some Asian-inspired cuisine from P.F. CHANG's.

Which one of these looks like it is the best option?


P.F. CHANG’s Chicken Pad Thai:  Rice noodles, Thai spices, chicken, green onion, peanuts.


P.F. CHANG’s Mongolian Beef Bowl:  Sweet soy glaze, flank steak, garlic, snipped green onion.


So, what did you choose?

In our experience, most people choose the following as the healthiest choices:


  • Applebee's:  Grilled Oriental Chicken Salad (obviously, grilled chicken, greens and a vinaigrette would be better than something cooked in a bunch of, you could just not eat the breadstick, right?!)
  • Chili's:  Black Bean & Veggie Fajitas (a black bean patty with asparagus, mushrooms and salsa has to be better than a burger).
  • On the Border:  Veggie Quesadilla (this is another obvious one...zucchini, squash and peppers in a quesadilla is clearly healthier than a couple crispy-fried tacos with a honey-chipotle sauce).
  • P.F. CHANG's:  Chicken Pad Thai (that sweet soy glaze in the Mongolian Beef Bowl has to be loaded with sodium and sugar).


But wait just a minute!  Brace is a summary of calories, fat, sodium and sugar for each of these meals:



Are you surprised?!

We shared this recently in a cooking demo and there were definitely some gasps in the room when they saw these numbers.  How could the healthy-sounding Grilled Oriental Chicken Salad have 1,450 calories, 90 g of fat, 2,150 mg of sodium and 52 g (13 teaspoons) of sugar (and that doesn't even include the breadstick!)?  I mean, it is grilled chicken, right?!

And, are you a little shocked by how much sodium and sugar are in these meals?  Remember, current recommendations are for 2,300 mg (ideally less than 1,500 mg) of sodium per day and 24 g to 36 g of added sugar per day (for women and men, respectively).


What can we learn from this?

First and foremost (you knew this was coming)...prepare your meals at home whenever possible!  As Michael Pollan says, "The most important thing you can do is cook for your family."  

For example, if you made the Vietnamese Chicken Salad, it has 265 calories, 11.5 g fat, 315 mg sodium, and 5 g sugar.  Double your serving and you are still way better off than the restaurant version.  Or, enjoy the Black Bean & Veggie Quesadillas with Goat Cheese, which has 335 calories, 11 g fat, 395 mg sodium, and 1 g sugar.

Of course, eating out can be a fun way to engage with family and friends.  And, especially this time of year, it can feel unavoidable with summer sports, vacations and many social and business gatherings.

To help you guiltlessly enjoy these meals away from home, here are some tips (and you can find a more in-depth discussion on these tips in our coaching tip Eating Out Shouldn't Shorten Your Life):


  • Choose local restaurants, especially those that use local, in-season ingredients.
  • Mediterranean, Greek, Japanese and Indian restaurants often have good and flavorful options available.
  • Do your homework!  Check out the nutritional info ahead of time!
  • Don't be afraid to ask if you want to know more about the ingredients or the preparation.
  • Ask about alternative preparations (like grilled instead of fried).
  • Be the first to order!  Then, no regrets.
  • Avoid fried foods and "all-you-can-eat" buffets.
  • Try to get the most colors and plants possible on your plate.
  • Beware of sauces and dressings - choose red over white sauce, and balsamic vinaigrette is typically a good dressing choice.
  • Use salsa as a dressing or baked potato topping.
  • Use caution with "free" food (like rolls, breads and chips).
  • Be mindful of the environment (music and gigantic TVs can actually affect what you eat).
  • Share or take half home.
  • Avoid soda and juice (opt for water or unsweetened tea).
  • Avoid words like glazed, crispy, smothered, breaded, creamy, honey-dipped, crusted, gooey and cheesy.


A few other words of encouragement:


  • Focus on what you "get to" eat, not what you "can't" eat!  There's nothing worse than a meal where you feel like you are depriving yourself.  Find something healthy and delicious and get excited about will thank yourself at the end of the meal.
  • Once in a while, throw all the rules out the door!  Especially if you have a truly special occasion you are celebrating, find a restaurant where you know the chef puts his or her heart and soul into the menu and the dishes.  These are the memorable meals and, yes, certain dishes may not be the healthiest in the world, but they are worth the occasional splurge!


We hope this helps and would love to hear your tips and strategies when eating away from home!



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8 Responses to Do You Eat Healthy Away From Home?

  1. Holey moley! Sodium is just off the charts, more than our daily max in just one entree! We seldom eat out but when we do, we can’t help but notice how salty the food tastes to us now. Soup seems the most heavily salted–like gumbo, hot and sour soup, etc. Ken says our homemade soup is WAY better.

  2. Great article! We are like Beverly and Ken, everything tastes so salty when we eat out! We do not eat out very often either, but you and Scott got us into looking for farm to table restaurants which has been a big plus and we have not been disappointed at the places we found. It is fun to splurge on special occasions. While we enjoy what we eat at these times are bodies usually ask “What the heck was that you ate?”

    • Ha! Ha! Karen that happens to us frequently! It is so much fun to splurge, especially when you are traveling to new places! Finding those local farm to table places is so much fun and memorable!

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