Here’s what I really wanted to call this blog post: “Tips for Eating Healthy When You Can’t Use Your Kitchen Because It’s Tented Off to Dry Out All the Water Damage.” But, you know, that makes for a pretty long title.
So … in case you couldn’t guess, we have water damage in our kitchen. We woke up one day, only to find water seeping up between the floor boards in our kitchen. Turns out, we had a leaking pipe in the wall, and the water spread from the wall to the floor. Major water damage everywhere. And now, our kitchen is totally tented off with a million professional dryers and fans, and has been unusable for days. We can get in and out through a zippered opening, but obviously they asked that we minimize doing so. And using the stove is totally off limits.
With no kitchen, we’re eating out a ton. And when you’re trying to be health conscious, eating out is really, really hard. My husband and I are on a major health and fitness kick, getting ready for our one-year anniversary vacation to Asia (which will include a few beach destinations like Bali and Phuket—gotta look good in that swimsuit!). Up until last week, we were doing great. I was making tons of healthy, tasty, homemade meals and snacks that were keeping us on track.
Then they took my kitchen away. Fortunately, we do have a spare fridge in our garage, so we were able to put a few food essentials in there, like fruit, cold cuts for sandwiches, etc. But, sandwiches get old after a while, so we’re still eating out for one or two meals a day. That’s what led to the inspiration for this post.
The tips I’m going to share are great for people who travel often, don’t like cooking for themselves, college students who don’t have easy kitchen access, people in the midst of a kitchen remodel … you get the point.
So here they are …
Check menus and nutrition content online BEFORE you go to a restaurant.
The easiest way to ensure you’re choosing a healthy option is to do your homework. If you’re visiting a chain restaurant, even a smaller regional one, chances are they post nutrition content online. But the key is to look before you go. That allows you to pick a spot that has a few healthy options to choose from – and when you go into a restaurant knowing what you’re going to order, it makes it easier to resist the temptation of ordering something that’s not healthy.
I know not everyone lives in a big city with tons of chain restaurant choices. If you’re going to an independent place that doesn’t post nutrition stats online, order smart. Choose dishes that contain lean proteins—chicken or turkey breast, fish and pork tenderloin are all great– and vegetables, but stay away from sauces. They can be hidden calorie and sugar bombs. And don’t be afraid to ask for things that aren’t on the menu or substitute items.
Also, don’t just assume a salad is the healthiest option. Sure, salads are usually a great choice and can be quite filling when you add lean protein. But, you have to be careful about the add-ons. Dressing, croutons and other yummy bits can make a salad’s calorie count skyrocket. Case in point: T.G.I. Friday’s Santa Fe Chopped Salad has 1,800 calories. That’s insane!
Regarding salad dressing, I always order it on the side so I can control how much I need; and if a salad comes with a dressing that I know is unhealthy (ahem, blue cheese), I ask if they have a vinaigrette instead. If you really love those creamy, typically caloric dressings like Ranch or blue cheese, order it on the side, then dip your fork in the dressing before you spear a forkful of salad. It gives it a hint of dressing flavor and it will save yourself a ton of calories versus dumping the full container on your salad!
Use an app.
I discovered an app called HealthyOut that I’ve had pretty good success using. The app allows you to search by your location or by an address for delivery, pickup and dine out restaurants. Here’s the cool part: The app then shows you how many healthy options each restaurant has on its menu, and exactly what those options are. It also tells you any modifications you need to make to your order to make it healthier. And, it often will include the calorie count for the dishes.
For instance, I have a Panera near my house. When I use this app to search restaurants near me, I can see that Panera has 27 healthy dishes on its menu. If I select their Power Chicken Hummus Bowl (which is pretty tasty, by the way – but totally something you could recreate at home for a fraction of the cost… assuming, of course, you have kitchen access!), it tells me I should ask for the dressing—or in this case, the hummus—on the side, and choose an apple as my side item instead of bread or chips. Then it tells me that the dish is 330 calories, 7 Weight Watchers points, and it breaks down the nutrition into grams of fat, protein, carbs, etc.
Pretty cool, right? It’s also pretty eye-opening to see how few healthy options some restaurants have. Buffalo Wild Wings has only two things on their menu that this app considers healthy. Shocker!
With those tips in mind, I wanted to share some of my go-to healthy dishes when I have to eat out. I tried to choose restaurants that are national, but I threw in a few regional faves too! In most cases, there are plenty more choices beyond what I included below. And you can find more using tip #1 above!
- Panera: Ham, Egg and Cheese on Whole Grain Bread – 340 calories
- Starbucks: Spinach Feta Wrap – 290 calories
- Egg McMuffin (skip the hashbrowns!) – 300 calories
- Fruit & Maple Oatmeal – 290 calories
- Chipotle: Salad With Chicken, Black Beans, Fajita Veggies, Fresh Tomato Salsa and Green Tomatillo Salsa (skip the cheese, sour cream, guac and salad dressing) – 370 calories
- Panera (As a side note, I always choose the apple as my side, which adds an extra 80 calories … or you can just save it for a snack later!):
- You Pick Two with ½ Smoked Turkey Sandwich and ½ Classic Salad with Balsamic Viniagrette – 360 calories
- Full BBQ Chicken Salad – 450 calories
- Full Power Chicken Hummus Bowl – 270 calories
- Corner Bakery – They have a list of 100 menu combinations under 600 calories that you can pick from. Here’s a few of my faves:
- ½ Uptown Turkey Sandwich with Mixed Greens Side – 470 calories (420 if you don’t eat the croutons!)
- ½ Chicken Pesto Sandwich with Cup of Mom’s Chicken Noodle Soup – 440 calories
- ½ California Grille Panini with Mixed Greens Side – 440 calories (or 390 with no croutons)
- Chik-fil-A: Grilled Chicken Sandwich with Fruit Cup on the side – 370 calories
- In-N-Out: I had to throw this one in, even though most folks across the country aren’t lucky enough to have In-N-Out. This is my favorite way to splurge without sacrificing a ton of calories!
- Cheeseburger, protein style (bun replaced with lettuce) – 330 calories
These meals have been in heavy rotation lately, so I’m totally looking for new options. Do you have a healthy go-to when you have to grab food on the run? Share with me in the comments!
Image courtesy of Mariamichelle at Pixabay.com