By The Restaurant Dieter

Category: Advice (Page 1 of 2)

Covid-19: Living in a no-restaurant world and loving it

Given the times in which we live, what use is a blog devoted to the passions of eating out healthily? Can such a thing even exist during a pandemic?

Hobby bloggers run hot and cold when it comes to posting regularly; this blog has been in the deep freeze since Spring 2019. Of all the times to unwrap and thaw, why choose now? For starters, we all have time on our hands as we stay home to dodge the Covid-19 virus. Another reason is that I have learned a valuable lesson about eating out.

Home is still better.

Like others, we have turned to the comforts of cooking in this great Covid-19 pandemic. Boy have we. Our home is full of food that we would never have had around a year ago. We are inside constantly and potentially tempted to consume out of stress or boredom.

And yet, my husband and I have not gained a pound.

One reason is that we are getting exercise — walking or biking with new E-bikes we purchased. The other reason, I have to believe, is that the food made at home is just plain better for us.

The focus on real food — free of the additives, flavor-enhancers, salt, sugar, and unpronounceable ingredients — first really hit home with my reading the New York Times food writer Mark Bittman. He says we need to make food from scratch, using fresh and raw ingredients.

Now that we aren’t in cars commuting between the office and home, we have more time than ever to cook. It’s given us a reason to support a great local butcher, Chop Shop in Atlanta.

During downtime between Zoom calls, my husband watches bread and pastry videos on YouTube. He’s mastered a perfect sourdough, canelles, no-churn mint chip ice cream, peach galette and some pretty mean cakes. Every single night, we have some kind of dessert with a glass of wine (him) or a cup of decaffeinated Darjeeling (me). We find we are satisfied and not binging on snacks until it’s time to turn off tonight’s movie and go to bed.

We plan and post a weekly menu. We’ve made everything from company-fare pork loin with a cherry wine sauce to tater tot casserole that was sinfully good. We’ve had Italian nights — tagliatelle with prosciutto and butter (3 tablespoons per serving) — and German feasts laden with bacon, bacon, bacon. We are making our own vegetable stock from the produce scraps.

One week’s posted menu
Sausage from Chop Shop, a nearby butcher shop, with German potato salad and red cabbage, both made in the Instant Pot.
Crab cakes with fries; yes, the fries were frozen from a bag. So sue us.

There is one recipe that, more than any, reveals how our lives have changed during this pandemic: Black bean chorizo casserole with pickled onions from The New York Times Cooking website. The recipe made eight servings and took 2 1/2 hours — something I missed when I put it on the menu. It had 11 steps in the recipe and involved things like:

  • Grating a lime for zest and mixing it with sour cream to make a lime crema
  • Chopping and pickling red onion slices
  • Toasting dried chiles and broiling garlic cloves for the sauce, then soaking the dried chiles until soft.
  • Processing the soaked chiles and garlic into a paste, adding oil and cooking it all into a sauce.
  • Poaching the chorizo because I brought fresh instead of pre-cooked; my mistake.
  • Chopping cilantro stems and onions for saute.
  • Sauteing the stems, onions chroizo, black beans.
  • Layering all of the above into a casserole dish for baking

This recipe was cooked on a weeknight. Are we insane?

Maybe. But we are also gratified by how wonderful food such as this actually is; how it tastes good without that ton of salt that is in restaurant food, regardless of whether it’s an Applebee’s or fine dining.

We’ve managed to eat a couple of meals out — and by that I mean truly outside “out” — and mostly it’s been disappointing.

Yet we are absolutely cheering for the restaurant industry to survive. Going to a restaurant is about so much more than the food. It is theater. It’s an experience. It’s a communal byproduct of the great and advanced society we live in. We get to be out and among people, something we all miss.

As soon as there’s a vaccine and we feel safe enough to venture back, we’ll be there. But I don’t think we’ll forget what we’ve learned about the value and goodness of a home-cooked meal.

Restaurants for eating healthy in Atlanta during the Super Bowl

Cold and fresh oysters from W.H. Stiles Fish Camp at Ponce City Market.

The Super Bowl supposed to be all about the 7-layer dip and the wings in front of the TV, right? Well, tell that to The New York Times, which earlier this week weighed in with a visitors’ game plan for “eating well in Atlanta.”

Writer Kim Severson, who lives in Atlanta, highlighted some of the better known — and some little known — restaurants visitors should consider. So here’s some insight on her favorites and how they stack up for dieters.

The article gives a prominent shout-out to Ponce City Market. One of the food stalls highlighted is W.H. Stiles Fish Camp from chef Anne Quatrano, whose Bacchanalia has been a leader in Atlanta fine dining for more than two decades. It’s one of my go-tos at Ponce. (One reason: a decent amount of inside seating. Don’t get me started on the special hell that is wandering inside the food hall, asking, “Is this seat taken?” It is.)

A weight-conscious diner at W.H. Stiles can feel pretty safe with a Poke bowl, oysters, Georgia Coast clams and poached shrimp. I’ve purchased a few of the shrimp — they’re local, sizeable, sweet and firm — at $1.75 each and thrown them on the $9 wedge salad with fresh, housemade dressing.

Tiny Lou’s is another hot newcomer that attracted Severson’s attention. It’s in the basement of Hotel Clermont, a former dive hotel that now has spiffy condos. (The divey strip bar is still open for business; a dancing girl on the menu advertises that Lou’s is “above where the ladies dance.” ) Sadly, they’ve cut the crudites with Green Goddess dressing. More than once, that bouquet of beautiful cold vegetables saved me.

But there are still plentiful vegetables among the sides, and daily, a vegetarian gnocchi. They’ve also been willing to toss a grilled chicken breast on that when I’ve wanted to add some protein to the mix.

Revival in Decatur from chef Kevin Gillespie made the cut. It is great Southern cooking, but as my review awhile back noted, not exactly a place for a lot of low-calorie options. So eat light that day.

Sodexo provides healthy cafeteria food

Grilled salmon and several choices of vegetable are always available at our company’s Sodexo-managed cafeteria. Today it’s chipolte-roasted sweet potato and steamed asparagus.

If you’re trying to eat healthy, the company cafeteria can be your worst enemy. This has even proved to be the case at hospitals.

If you do not want to eat healthy, our cafeteria is happy to accommodate you. On pasta day alone, there’s a long line and the portions are immense. You can get burgers and fries, fried vegetables, Chinese food, Philly cheesesteaks and big Mexican bowls.

But every day — every single day — there are at least two varieties of simply grilled fish and at least six choices of vegetables. At breakfast, you can have your omelet made with whole egg, egg white or half-and-half.

Our cafeteria is run by the institutional food giant, Sodexo. A quick survey of its website suggests it has gotten the memo that not everybody wants indulge at lunch to salve their work stresses. In October 2018, it announced that it was adding 200 new recipes to its menus that are plant-based.

Unless something on the daily menu really, really calls to me, I pretty much always get the grilled salmon and two vegetables. It’s a safe bet that tastes good and balances out whatever damage was done or will be done soon.

Breakfast: why eating nuts works

Research suggests that nuts, the enemy of calorie counters, actually contribute to healthy weight and even weight loss. Since I’ve stopped counting calories and Weight Watcher points, I’ve been eating more nuts. They have a satisfying mouthfeel, crunchy and substantial.

The trick is to avoid eating salted nuts. Salt is a trigger food that leads to overeating.

My go-to breakfast is plain yogurt, some 100 percent real maple syrup, fruit (fresh if possible), some kind of high-fiber sugar-free cereal and unsalted nuts. It’s really satisfying and seems to set me up for a successful day. The rest of today will be all restaurant eating, and I think I’m well prepared.

A good reason to exercise

A friend of my husband asked him recently, “What happened to The Restaurant Dieter.” The answer was in my last post. I diet no more.

That doesn’t mean I don’t try to eat healthy and take care of myself. It just means that I’m not counting those Weight Watchers points anymore.

Christmas is challenging time for most folks who struggle with weight. Besides the availability of rich and sugary food itself, emotions run high — both happy emotions and not-so-happy emotions.

What to do? Today it was 25 minutes on the treadmill. Did the trick.


8 turkey sandwiches dieters have to avoid

For many Weight Watchers, a turkey sandwich is the gold standard. A basic version counts as two slices of bread (5 Smart Points) and 4 ounces of deli turkey (2 Smart Points). Add in some lettuce, tomato or other vegetables and you have a pretty satisfying meal. Ordering a turkey sandwich at lunch winds up consuming 7 points from my daily allowance of 34. Plenty left over for dinner and breakfast.

But in the hands of some restaurant chefs, the humble turkey sandwich becomes a minefield. Consider these turkey sandwiches:

  • Arby’s: The Roast Turkey Ranch & Bacon sandwich (24 Smart Points)
  • Blimpie: Turkey & Provolone sub (large, 24 Smart Points)
  • Bruegger’s: Turkey Toscana on Hearty White Hot Panini (19 Smart Points)
  • California Pizza Kitchen: Club Turkey Sandwich with Traditional Ciabatta (19 Smart Points)
  • Cosi: Bacon Turkey & Cheddar Melt (20 Smart Points)
  • Denny’s: Club Sandwich (19 Smart Points)
  • Firehouse Subs: Turkey Bacon Ranch Specialty Sub (41 Smart Points large; 26 medium)
  • Subway: Footlong Turkey, Bacon and Avocado (23 Smart Points)



Weight Watchers: What to know about eating at chains

It’s not that chain restaurants are out to get us. Really. It’s just that they’re out to get everyone else (as customers) and leave us to manage on our own. Weight Watchers has done a great job of pulling together information on chain restaurants in its Menu Master Eating Out Guide.

The book is very complete, offering SmartPoints numbers for most chains and some non-chain but common menu items. A 3-by-4-inch piece of eggplant parmesan is 16 points, according to the book. (For non Weight Watchers members, this is the number you need for comparison. The Restaurant Dieter gets 34 points to spend on food daily, with most vegetables and fruits at zero.)

Weight Watchers’ relentlessly upbeat tone even extends to chain restaurants. “You’ll find a restaurant here an enjoy eating out. Menu Master will help make it a pleasure.” Uh-huh. Sure. How about some of these winners:

  • Auntie Annie’s: What carb addict hasn’t strolled past those glistening, nutritionally vapid pretzels and had a craving? But the price is steep. A cinnamon sugar soft pretzel is 19 points even before 3 for the light cream dip or 7 for the caramel dip. Run away!
  • Bruegger’s: Where a jalapeño cheddar bagel can cost you 13 points, nearly half of what you get for the entire day. Or a turkey sandwich — usually a good choice, in this case Harvest Turkey on Ciabatta, for 21 points. (A hamburger at Five Guys, which is a darn good old-fashioned burger, is only 24 SmartPoints.)
  • Chili’s: I guess we have to pass on the Bacon Ranch Steak Quesadilla at 63 points. That is not a typo.
  • Cinnabon: Why even bother to know the SmartPoints, when hardly anything on the menu is below 15 and ranges up to 46.
  • IHOP: If breakfast starts with an order of Cinnamon Swirl Brioche French Toast and Sausage at 47 point, why not just head to bed and start over tomorrow? Or: just see Cinnabon, above.
  • Jamba Juice: Didn’t smoothies start as healthful alternatives? Not here. Something that sounds as innocuous as a Banana Berry Smoothie is 32 points.
  • KFC: Just be aware that the Chicken Pot Pie (at 32 SmartPoints) makes an extra crispy fried chicken breast at 13 look like a bargain.
  • Red Lobster: Which has Cajun Chicken Linguine Alfredo on the children’s menu with half a serving at 25 points.

Get the book here. It’s essential.


Waiters of the world: We have to order like this. Sorry.

When ordering at a restaurant, Weight Watchers members have little choice but to order like Sally in this famous scene from the 1980s movie, “When Harry Met Sally.”

What helps:

  1. Tell the waiter upfront that you’re watching your food intake and that you’re going to have to ask for some things modified.
  2. Tell the waiter if he’s successful in helping you, he’ll get a nice tip.
  3. Give the nice tip.

I was recently at a Mexican restaurant for a dinner sponsored by my boss. I did step No. 1. Then I said: “I would like the fajitas. Can I please have corn tortillas instead of flour? And It sounds like the fajitas are marinated in something. Can you please ask the cook to do it dry or take the chicken out of the marinade and run it under some water before cooking it? If it comes out all shiny from the oil, I’ll have to send it back. If it doesn’t, I’ll make sure you get a good tip.”

The waiter did a great job. Even though I didn’t pay the tab for the meal and he got tipped by my boss, I slipped him $5. It was worth it.



« Older posts