About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
I've always loved eating in restaurants: I take great pleasure in the artful cooking (and sometimes even the not-so-artful cooking) of others. But to be honest, in recent years I've eaten out more than I'd really like to. Because I travel so much, dining out is often more a matter of necessity than of choice, making me feel somewhat like a prisoner of someone else's menu. There's no doubt that it's harder to eat healthfully at restaurants than at home; you have less control over the choices available and how food is prepared, and it's harder to tell if what you think you're eating is what you're really eating -- and harder to put the brakes on temptation.
But, if you approach dining out with the same amount of knowledge and commitment you bring to eating at home, there's no reason you can't eat out and stay on the program, whether you go to restaurants once, twice, thrice, or many more times a week.
This is even more true today than it was just a short while ago. All the traveling I've done over the past few years has given me the opportunity to sample restaurants in almost every nook and cranny of the country, and I think I can say with some authority that the state of restaurant food is improving. The management of many eateries, from four-star dining rooms to fast-food joints, seems to have heard the cry for more healthful entrees -- and they're delivering. Restaurants, after all, are businesses, and many health-conscious people have dollars to spend. I'm sure that there are some restaurateurs out there who have changed their menus because they have a social conscience (and probably like to eat nutritious food themselves), but, for the most part, the bottom line being the bottom line in business, it's our dollars that are driving the market.
Just a few years ago, healthy restaurant fare wasn't particularly marketable. Some places tried putting a few nutritious options onto their menus but no one bought them. Now, though, people are responding to these healthier choices, partly, I think, because restaurant chefs have learned to make them much more palatable. For example, at the time of this writing, McDonald's had recorded a significant jump in overall sales that analysts attributed to the introduction of a line of salads called Premium Salads. Wendy's and Jack in the Box have also introduced new and improved salads of their own. Many chains are putting considerable energy into getting across the news that fast-food restaurants now offer healthier choices. I know this firsthand because (in the interest of full disclosure) I have even been hired as a consultant to help McDonald's with its healthy lifestyles public awareness campaign.
But it's not just fast-food restaurants that are getting into the act; all kinds of places are now much more open to special requests (that is, the waiter no longer makes you feel like crawling under the table when you ask for salad dressing on the side). Many sit-down restaurants, from coffee shops to four-star dining rooms, have even created special dishes for those of us concerned about the condition of our arteries and how our jeans fit. In doing the research for this book, I was also amazed at how many restaurants post nutritional analyses of their food on their Web sites. Doing a little Web surfing before you dine out is really worth the time.
All this is good news, but restaurants are still far from perfect, and because they're not it's still important to approach dining out with caution and intelligence. Researchers have found that there is a direct connection between the frequency with which people eat out and the amount they weigh, and this is particularly true of fast-food dining: The more people eat out at fast-food restaurants, the more extra pounds they tend to carry. Plus, not all the recent changes in restaurant menus have been made with your health in mind. There has been, for instance, a movement by restaurants (particularly, though not exclusively, fast-food restaurants) to supersize just about everything. Suddenly we're facing dishes with modifiers such as "monster" and "towering," not to mention employees trying to get you to upsize "for just a quarter more." It may be a good deal financially speaking, but healthwise I can't think of a worse investment.
It's easy to get angry at the restaurant industry for what might be seen as an assault on our health and the promotion of obesity. And many people have gotten angry -- so angry that they've brought lawsuits intending to make restaurants (fast-food restaurants especially) pay for feeding us poorly. I prefer to look at it a different way. We can all make choices, and that includes choosing whether to buy the supersize fries or the small-size fries -- or, better yet, a plain baked potato or a side salad. We can also choose not to eat everything on our plate. If being wasteful is a concern, well, all restaurants carry doggy bags or some other type of take-home container.
These days, thanks to the health messages kids get in school, public service messages on TV, and news reports on nutrition, it's the rare person who doesn't know at least the basics of eating right. We all have a pretty good idea that living exclusively on French fries, hamburgers, and shakes is not healthy. And we all know that a monster cola is going to have far more calories than a small cup of soda (and that water is a far better selection). It's the personal responsibility of each and every one of us to make the right choices. It's our responsibility at the grocery store and at home, and it shouldn't be any different when we dine out.
There is no doubt that restaurants continually put temptation in our paths, but this is where your commitment to yourself comes in. In Get With the Program and The Get With the Program! Guide to Good Eating, I laid out choices intended to set you on a path toward a stronger, healthier body and an improved life. I hope that at this point (with or without the help of those two books) you have committed to three steps that will lead you to success:
I think that once you've committed yourself to reaching those goals, it will make it easier to extend your commitment to restaurant dining. Staying on the program in the face of alluring double cheeseburgers and pasta in cream sauces takes inner strength, but if you've been working hard to eat well and exercise, you already have what it takes to tackle the obstacles restaurants menus put in your path.
What will also help you stay the course is beginning to think about restaurant dining in a new way. People dine out for different reasons. Sometimes it's for a social occasion or a celebration, sometimes it's simply to sample the latest hot spot. Sometimes it's a business obligation or, as in my case, because travel leaves you no other option. Sometimes, though, it's simply a necessity -- there's no time or perhaps not enough energy to cook. Whatever the reason, we as a nation have placed part of our health in the hands of restaurant cooks: according to the National Restaurant Association, 54 billion meals are eaten in restaurants each year, and on any given day, four out of ten adults dine out.
With so many of us eating out regularly, it's time to start subjecting restaurant fare to the same kind of scrutiny we give our home-cooked meals. It's one thing to dine out on a special night (say, a birthday or an anniversary) and indulge yourself. But if you eat out often, it's important to stop thinking of all restaurant meals as "special" and to start considering them as meals -- meals that, because you've made a commitment to your health, should be nutritious, balanced, and reasonably proportioned. It may seem difficult at first, but if each time you step into a restaurant you renew your commitment to the program, you're going to be much more likely to find the inner strength you need to resist the double-cheese pizza.
How to Use This Book
I think you can find something healthy to eat at just about any restaurant, but it can also make a world of difference if you enter an eatery armed with some strategies for navigating the menu or, whenever possible, some advance knowledge about what you can (and can't) count on that particular establishment to offer. More than anything else (except your commitment to stay on track), going in with a plan is your best strategy for staying on the program. That's where this book comes in.
The first section is devoted to some general dining-out tactics that will work just about anywhere. They'll help you sit down in a restaurant -- be it an American-style coffee shop, a funky Mexican taco stand, or a swanky French bistro -- scan the menu, and zero in on the healthy choices. I also want you to learn to be able to read between the menu lines. If you'd like a vegetarian meal but the restaurant doesn't offer a vegetarian plate, create your own by ordering a bunch of vegetable side dishes. If a restaurant offers fried chicken and grilled steaks, it's possible that it may grill a chicken breast for you if you ask (it obviously has a grill if it's grilling steaks!). Thinking "outside the box" can often net you a meal much healthier than the ones a chef has put on the menu.
The second section of this book is a comprehensive guide to the majority of national and regional chain restaurants in this country. I've looked at menus and pored over nutrition statistics (when available) to find out how each place rates on the health-o-meter as well as to see what its best (and worst) offerings are. Every place, I found, has something to offer, but some places have a greater number of healthy options than others. For that reason, I suggest you use the guide to help you shop around for a restaurant. By browsing through the pages, you can compare and contrast chains before you go, rather than just picking a place and hoping for the best. Why gamble when you can increase the odds that you'll be able to get a healthful meal? You might even keep a copy of this book in the car so that you can consult it when you're on the road rather than settling for the most convenient place.
You can also use this guide to help you determine what you're going to eat before you even get to a restaurant. Meeting a friend at Applebee's or Schlotzsky's Deli? Check out what they have to offer and go knowing that you'll be able to stay on the program once you get there. I find that it really helps steel my own resolve if I do the decision making without a server standing over my shoulder or without the choices my fellow diners have already made to sway me. If you decide what you're going to eat before you go, it will lessen the time you need to look at the menu -- and therefore lessen the time the other fattier and more caloric entrees will have to test your determination.
I hope this book will become heavily thumbed as you use it to find the dining spots and different dishes that will help you stay on the program. I think it's important to remember that no single over-the-top restaurant meal will cause you to gain a lot of weight or wipe away all of the healthy eating and exercise that went before it. But eating a large number of unhealthy restaurant meals over time can undo a lot of the good you've done, so be vigilant. You now have in your hands all the information you need to make wise choices while still experiencing the pleasures and convenience of dining out (or bringing food in).
Copyright © 2004 by Bob Greene Enterprises, Inc.