If only eating out at restaurants weren't so fun. (Why is it that consuming food made by someone else in a dining room that isn't your own makes the experience so much better?) Socializing over platters of professionally prepared eatables is one of my favorite pastimes, but the one thing I don't love so much about it is that it's often so hard to tell what will be the healthiest meal choice. Even at my favorite organic eateries and vegan joints in Los Angeles, there are gobs of hidden calories and sugar everywhere.
So how's a nutrition-conscious restaurant lover to know which dishes are secretly going to ruin you?
To find out, we consulted two of our most trusted nutritionists, who know full well which seemingly "healthy" meal choices aren't actually so good for you. If you're a restaurant lover like me, this list is here to help. Keep scrolling for the three most popular dishes you should never order at restaurants.
"Entrée salads may seem like a dinner choice you can feel good about, but often these contain more calories (often more than 1000) than a sensible entrée!" says Sarah Asay, a registered dietitian at BistroMD. The main culprits are all the toppings and dressings that are sometimes processed and usually chock-full of empty calories. "Be mindful of croutons and crunchy toppings such as tortilla strips, cheeses, creamy dressings, dried fruit, and proteins that are breaded or fried," Asay says.
What to order instead: If you're dead set on salad, at least make sure the protein on top is grilled or baked, not breaded or fried. And make sure to leave off any crunchy toppings, and ask for the dressing to be served on the side. Also, if the salad is huge, consider boxing half of it to eat later. Better yet, instead of salad, "choose a grilled or broiled piece of protein with a rub instead of a sauce, choose at least one vegetable side, and opt for a baked potato instead of fries," Asay suggests.
"People tend to think fish is a healthier option to choose when eating out," says certified nutrition coach Candice Seti of The Weight Loss Therapist. "But ordering generic fish tacos almost definitely sets you up to receive fish that has been deep-fried and covered in a thick, unhealthy white sauce."
What to order instead: Don't worry; you can still get your fish taco fix. Just make sure to "specify grilled fish and ask for the white sauce on the side," Seti says.
You might think that ordering an appetizer instead of entrée will be more diet-friendly, or that only having a few bites before you main meal won't hurt. But when it comes to apps, nutritionists say to proceed with caution. "Appetizers can often be the make-or-break point of a healthy meal out," Seti says. "It is the first thing we eat, and so we often choose our appetizers out of hunger instead of healthy thinking."
And choosing a vegetable-based appetizer doesn't guarantee that you're getting something healthy. "It is becoming increasingly common to see these vegetables incorporated in an unhealthy way," Seti says. "Green beans, pickles, and calamari are all healthy items that are often breaded, fried, and sauced to create a less-than-healthy appetizer."
What to order instead: The appetizer menu isn't totally off-limits. Just make sure to choose fresh veggies or crudité with hummus and fresh proteins, like chicken skewers or grilled calamari.
Or, better than eating at a restaurant, throw a dinner party! Pick up a copy of Party Vegan ($15) to learn how to cook a healthy and delicious meal for your friends.
Opening Image: Gather & Feast