The title is an oxymoron yet some people swear it's impossible to cook meals from scratch at home given their schedule. Sobeys recently conducted a national survey that found that Canadians are consuming too much processed or prepared foods, with only 18% preparing at least one meal a day from scratch or with basic ingredients. Thus, my first piece of advice would be to fix your schedule! Yes it's tough when you've worked all day and yes your homemade concoctions may not taste as good as the newest taco bell creation (apparently with Dorito shells now) but your wellbeing depends on it. "Wait I don't want to be admonished for eating out. Just tell me what the best picks are at McDonalds and I'll just order those along with my medium fries and diet coke".
While I will get to the options promised in the title, I just want to say that even if you can't make a huge improvement, a little one goes a long way. Yes, this also applies to choosing healthier options when eating out but should not be limited to that. Maybe one or two meals cooked from scratch at home? If that's all you can do. In my last article I spoke of small changes that stick and I want to bring this up with you again. No need to overhaul your diet and lifestyle today. As a matter of fact don't do it! It won't work.
Finally without further ado my list of healthy eats with some explanation. I got this idea from Nutritionist, Dr. John Berardi who suggests knowing the healthy options at your local budget restaurants, mid price range restaurants and fine dining locales but as I've spent a very long time as a student I will opt to address only the cheap eats. I hope the ritzier folk forgive me (I`ll try to complete this list in the future, income permitting).
Fortunately, given the demands of a more nutritionally aware public fast food restaurants almost always have `healthier` options these days. Avoid white bread at all costs and do not drink your calories.
Cashew Teriyaki Salad + Water
Calories = 400
Fat = 20 g
Carbohydrates = 33 g
Protein = 25 g
Sodium = 650 mg
*The trick here is to get the grilled chicken and not the crispy and to use the dressing sparingly (if you can eat it without the dressing, even better); this should reduce calories. You can get a diet coke if you need a little extra something. (The latest literature says the aspartame in diet coke is not bad for you. See http://chemicalsareyourfriends.com/posts/efsa-aspartame-is-safe-to-consume/ for an article written by a former colleague of mine). The only other things aside from the other similar salads that is remotely acceptable is the Fruit `N Yogurt Parfait.
Chicken BLT Garden Fresh Salad + Water
Calories = 350
Fat = 23 g
Carbohydrates = 11 g
Protein = 27 g
Sodium = 1060 mg
*Skip the bacon and the dressing.
Asian Cashew Chicken Salad + Water
Calories = 370
Fat = 13 g
Carbohydrates = 33 g
Protein = 34 g
Sodium = 930 mg
A close runner up is the Apple Pecan Chicken Salad (similar nutrition).
*Remember to minimize the amount the dressing you use or forgo it all together for the salads! Also always opt for the grilled chicken.
You can also try the Sour Cream and Chives Potato.
Calories = 328
Fat = 6 g
Carbohydrates = 65 g
Protein = 9 g
Sodium = 75 mg
*Try to scrap the sour cream or else use it sparingly. Instead ask them for the chilli sauce which is low calorie and delicious (warning: it is a little spicy).
Although they do have a ‘Healthy Choices’ menu all their picks are burritos/tacos with white shells. Heck they all come from their regular menu if you pay close attention. So they’re suggesting that most of their regular creations fall in the healthy category. Nice try! No quiero taco bell (for those of you old enough to remember the chihuahua commercial)!
The only thing I could find was corn, which comes in three sizes. If you are really willing to make a trip to KFC for just that or happen to end up their with a friend hungry, you know what to get. At least unlike their usual partner Taco Bell, they do not claim to have healthy options.
Corn (Medium Size)
Calories = 260
Fat = 2.5 g
Carbohydrates = 60 g
Protein = 8 g
Sodium = 0 mg (Impressive!)
If you play your cards right you might have something decent here. I’ve grouped Subway and Mr. Sub because they obviously serve the same thing and both have more than one healthy option, although they are really just slight variations on the same thing. Consequently the nutritional information varies and I won’t list it here but can be found on the websites for these restaurants.
For Subway the winner is honey oat (its whole wheat and has the most protein). For Mr. Sub it is a bit unclear from their website, but I would go with the harvest wheat over the hearty multigrain (multigrain simply means it has more than one grain and is often bread that still has a high white carbohydrate content).
1. Grilled chicken/oven roasted chicken/sweet onion chicken teriyaki
2. Turkey breast
3. Go veggie
*If it fits your budget, you can double the meat for a healthy fullness without the bad calories!
You can’t have too many. Go nuts here. I personally like to ask for extra green peppers. And when in season you can ask for baby spinach instead of iceberg lettuce, which is just a filler (albeit a benign one) as it has no nutritional value. If you are willing to spend the extra money Subway also has guacamole sometimes and it’s main ingredient, avocado, has a ton of good fats (yes they exist).
Choose the ones with the lowest fat, which are Swiss and mozzarella in general.
Try eating your sub without a sauce(s) and you’ll be surprised how tasty it is! A little black pepper also goes a long way. If you must have something obviously opt for the 0 fat options but these still have enough crappy carbohydrates to kick your butt.
Finally, you can also try the salad variation of these subs. I do this when I’m trying to limit my carbohydrates for the day (a more advance trick). I ask for loads of veggies. Now that you have the option to design your own salad try to swap that iceberg lettuce for some of the tastier and more nutritionally dense vegetables like green peppers, cucumbers etc. and not waste space.
The biggest restaurant chain in Ontario is definitely Pizza Pizza but maybe you have a Pizza Nova or Dominos near your home. In general I avoid pizza but when I do have it I do a few things to optimize its nutrition.
Try the gluten-free option. No, gluten isn’t necessarily the killer here (unless you have an intolerance), but a gluten-free crust definitely doesn’t have any white carbohydrates. Moreover, if you eat the pizza when its hot the taste is definitely there. The runner up is the whole wheat multigrain (how I hate the duplicity of that last word).
Tomato, bruschetta and pesto sauces tend to be solid options.
Stick with the mozzarella given its lower fat content. We are trying to minimize the bad fats and the animal fat found in dairy is just that (after all it still comes from the cow).
Choose vegetables and avoid their mystery meats.
Just to be complete I should mention that Pizza Pizza also has salad options now. Their Asian Grilled Chicken Delite (Entree size) is not a shabby choice if you follow our rule and use the dressing sparingly or avoid it. The arugula, garden and Mediterranean Greek salads are also decent options but I haven't gone through them here. Why you're ordering salad at a pizzeria is something you'll have to explain to your friends however.
Asian Grilled Chicken Delite
Calories = 329
Fat = 1.5 g
Carbohydrates = 24 g
Protein = 14 g
Sodium = 380 mg
To many, the options I've given will not be filling by themselves and may not seem very appetizing. To those I say...
Obviously, I haven’t addressed everything here and it’s even harder to analyze the ethnic restaurants that are kind to the wallet but not our bodies. These restaurants tend to be smaller and nutritional information tends not to be readily available. What about those of you with more to spend? There are a ton of mid price point restaurants and fine dining places that I haven’t talked about. Generally the more expensive places have fresher and healthier ingredients. When professional athletes go out to eat during their training camps, especially those who worry about weight classes (think MMA fighter or boxer), they choose those places where they can talk to the chefs directly and custom order their food. Not your local McDonald as you can imagine. Most of these guys and gals have a personal nutritionist and chef on their staff team and even chat with them before their social outing and are instructed on what to do. This should tell us that eating out is not something that should be taken lightly especially when done chronically.
Let's try to establish some general rules that may be obvious to most but will be spelled out here. We will apply these anywhere we go and should be a decent start to a healthier lifestyle. They are not mutually exclusive.
1. Grilled meat is always better than battered meat. Actually grilled anything is better than the same thing in batter.
2. Low fat is always better than high fat (assuming the fat is the bad kind which it usually is). This means chicken is generally better than beef and the zero fat dressing is better than the full flavour. Mozzarella and Swiss is better than cheddar because it almost invariably has less fat. Good fats come from nuts, avocados, flax seeds, extra virgin olive oil and fish (those are the big ones).
3. If you don’t know what’s in it, avoid it. This applies best to sauces and mystery meats like hotdogs.
4. Try to minimize refined carbohydrates. White bread is not your friend. Rice is better (brown is superior to white). Whole-wheat items are the best. If available on your outing try the yam/sweet potato options (not the fries dummy) or the quinoa (not common at budget places).
5. You can never have too many veggies. Unless they are done in tempura batter. See rule #1!
6. Try the seafood options (as long as it doesn’t break rule #1). If you are willing to spend the money, these options tend to be better than other fattier meats. Tell the waiter to put the sauce on the side so you can decide how much you use.
7. Never drink your calories. Your answer when the waiter/waitress asks about drinks should be water or sparkly water.
I hope this article will help people navigate the mean streets of the GTA where a heart attack will likely get you before a mugger. If you have the requisite money you can do great eating out, but for most you'll likely get something that doesn't quite hit the spot. Can't have it all.