Healthy Restaurant Eating

By The Restaurant Dieter

Tag: chains (page 1 of 3)

“I’m sure there’s something there that you can eat,” they say.

The only non-beef sandwich is a veggie burger that clocks in at 520 calories, 25 grams of fat, 57 of carbs and 18 of protein.

And as I’ve reported before, there is nothing remotely healthy about the gourmet burger menus, however grass fed the beef may be.

Review: Assembling your own salad at Atlanta’s Mi Cocina is smart indeed

When the subject is eating healthy, a Mexican chain restaurant seems an unlikely choice. But this Weight Watcher passed by two other restaurants to eat at Mi Cocina in Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood.

Two reasons:

  1. The menu offers a perfectly dieter-friendly ceviche that is spicy, fresh and quite filling.
  2. The Mexican restaurant ubiquitous basket of tortilla chips is not salted, making it possible to eat just six and no more. A salty meal, with its addictive properties, can trigger a binge day that doesn’t end.
The lettuce

The lettuce

The ceviche is full of healthy ingredients

The ceviche is full of healthy ingredients

Mi Cocina appears to be a small chain based in Texas, with restaurants in Dallas and Houston. The menu is pretty typical: tacos, enchiladas, some salads, guacamole, fajitas and nachos. Usually at a Mexican restaurant, I order fajitas. I request that the cook pluck them from whatever oily marinade they are in, rinse them under the sink and grill them dry. With some pico de gallo, guacamole and corn tortillas, it’s a reasonable choice.

Mi Cocina’s ceviche is a smaller portion than it used to be, but it is still a nice mix of shrimp, jicama, mango, avocado and red onion in a cilantro-lime vinaigrette. The restaurant does not publish nutritional information, but My Fitness Pal estimates it at 109 calories, 4 grams of fat and 10 grams of protein. That comes to 3 Weight Watchers SmartPoints.

The ceviche great on its own, but today I ordered a salad — blue cheese dressing on the side, no bacon and no crisp friend onions. The server was so stunned, he stammered: “Without those things, there really isn’t anything to the salad but the lettuce.” Perfect.

When it arrived, I dumped the ceviche over the lettuce, added about a tablespoon of the dressing and mixed it all up. “That’s pretty smart,” he said.

Yes, it was. So smart I had six of those unsalted chips.

Tortilla chips come unsalted

Tortilla chips come unsalted




Why Chick-fil-A’s new kale-and-broccolini salad isn’t as healthy as you think

You know it’s January when restaurant companies haul out the “lite” menus or even introduce new permanent items aimed at the Weight Watchers crowd. Nothing has exploded more than Chick-fil-A’s Superfood Salad.

And not in a good way. A kale-and-broccolini dish is trendy.  Putting one on Chick-fil-A’s menu is kind of like Nicki Minaj subbing for Hillary Clinton at an Iowa campaign appearance. To add insult, the Superfood Salad swept off the menu that Southern staple, coleslaw.  It seemed like a blue-state raid on the beloved Atlanta-based chain, especially suspicious given Chick-fil-A’s designs on New York City.

Oddly enough, the creation came from a Southern chef, Ford Fry of Atlanta, whose empire includes JCT Kitchen, where there’s a completely credible southern drawl to the menu.

One blogger’s diatribe against the salad has gone hilariously viral.

Despite the marketing focus on healthy vegetables, the salad has a lot of sugar packed in the maple vinaigrette dressing and dried cherries.

The small is 140 calories with 7 grams of fat, a meager 2 of fiber,  11 of sugar and only 3 of protein. The large is 170 calories, 8 grams fat, 2 of fiber, 16 of sugar and 4 of protein. For that reason, it performs poorly on Weight Watchers’ protein-and-vegetable leaning points program — 6 Smart Points for the small and 7 for the large.

For comparison, the large has almost half the sugar you’d find in a 12-ounce can of soda pop. (Admittedly, the new salad has less sugar than the Chick-fil-A coleslaw, which packed 26 grams of sugar into 580 calories.)

Let’s see how long it takes for the coleslaw to return to the menu. Maybe The South will rise again.


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.


Chains offering more healthy fare

The New York Times today has an interesting article about how chains are reacting to pressure to offer healthy fare. Good reading for those of us on Weight Watchers.

Dressed and other salad chains: Meccas for the diet conscious

Romaine, edamame, tuna
Even in an increasingly health-conscious world, opening a restaurant whose star attraction is salads is brave to say the least.
But chains indeed have, and we dieters are thankful. A couple years back, one of them, Tossed, opened about 2 miles from our house in Decatur, Ga. The restaurant was located in the small downtown. It was too far from the house for a quick walk, but parking in the area was in short supply.
3 1/2 oz dressing
Still, I patronized it as often as possible. I desperately wanted it to survive, but it didn’t.
Now we live in Midtown Atlanta, and a short block from Dressed. I can walk there in less than 5 minutes. It’s on the way from the commuter train station to our apartment. It couldn’t get more convenient.
I try to load up with lots of low-fat ingredients: romaine or spring mix, red pepper, carrot, edamame, egg white, chicken or tuna, grilled asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes, radish and chickpeas. I leave the croutons, nuts, friend chicken pieces to others.
Half was enough
The only thing to watch out for is the dressing. The bottom of the “on the side” portion cup showed it contained 3 1/2 ounces of the lemon-lime vinaigrette. That’s a lot of dressing — 8 Weight Watcher points. More in fact, than the sizable salad actually needed. Half turned out to be quite enough.


McDonald’s romances bloggers, but not this one

The New York Times magazine has an interesting piece today about how McDonald’s has reported financial results nearly double industry expectations.

The recipe for success appears to be a combination of new buildings and renovations; adding more beverages to the menu (they have the highest profit margins and little to no waste); and flying mom bloggers to Oak Brook, Ill., headquarters for a charm offensive.

One of the topics the McDonald’s folks covered with the nutrition-minded moms was their decision to add apple slices to their Happy Meals. But the moms apparently weren’t totally bought off. They mentioned ideas like putting broccoli the meals, which McDonald’s rejected.

Somehow, even with my history as a devoted McDonald’s employee, I don’t expect to be invited.

I don’t think it’s because I’m not a mom, though that is certainly true. I think the reason is that — apple slices notwithstanding — I have a ton of healthful eating isues to discuss with them.

Here’s the link to the story:

At Golden Corral, dip that fruit in chocolate and…fat. Ugh.

Add some oil to make it flow

Even for a seasoned dieter, it’s hard to pass up a piece of good chocolate. If it’s high quality, sometimes one nice bite is enough to satisfy. It should be easy, however, to pass by the gross stuff spilling over the edge of the chocolate fountain. I don’t care if the dipping items do include fresh fruit.
The fountains are thought by some to be an elegant and showy finish for parties, weddings and bar mitzvah. Now the elegant restaurant chain Golden Corral has decided to latch onto this dubious trend and take it national. Yuck.
I’ve never liked them. Instead of a wonderful dessert that leaves you feeling satisfied, there’s this giant tower of mysterious liquid surrounded by skewers and platters  of fruit, cakes and cookies. After awhile, the whole station is spattered with chocolate. It’s not appetizing in the least.
Plus, I’ve always suspected that it isn’t exactly high-quality chocolate. To get the chocolate to flow so smoothly and not gum up the fountain, it’s clearly been thinned. Water would dilute the taste, so the likely culprit is fat. One recipe found online calls for adding three-quarters of a cup of oil to two bags of chocolate chips. Another website, explains that a higher concentration of cocoa butter makes the chocolate flow easily.
So now are you tempted to visit Golden Corral and dip that fruit into a fat bath? I thought not.

Darden Restaurants: Maybe shaved profits will help cut calories?

The Restaurant Dieter was harsh on Darden Restaurant Group and Michelle Obama recently. The chain announced some pretty modest efforts to make its menus healthier, but from the purple prose, you’d have thought Darden conquered obesity.

Now comes the news that the chain — which operates Olive Garden, Red Lobster and others — is suffering financially. One of the reasons cited is commodity costs. Here’s hoping it gives the chain incentive to rein in some of the enormous and calorie-laden portions it serves.

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