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How To Eat Healthy In Restaurants: Advice from SF food critic Michael Bauer

by | Jul 7, 2010

by Misserion

a-dogs-dinner

Most of us take it as given that eating out makes us fat. Modern restaurants are famous for super-sized portions and customers with over-grown bellies.

But renowned San Francisco Chronicle food critic, Michael Bauer, recently took issue with this assumption. In his blog post Eat Healthy, Eat Out Bauer argues that rather than compromising his health, his daily restaurant habit keeps him healthier than the majority of American homebodies.

To find out more about his eating habits, I asked Bauer to share with Summer Tomato readers how he manages to stay healthy while eating out almost every single day.

(This post is part 4 of the series How To Healthy Eat In Restaurants, originally published July 27, 2009. The rest of the series includes Healthy Tips for Real Life (or how I learned to stop worrying and never eat fast food), Neighborhood Convenience, Sit-Down Chains and Truly Special Occasions.)

For a food critic, eating out is a way of life.

Bauer eats dinner in a restaurant every night of the week, always orders three courses and usually eats with a friend. He re-patronizes the same restaurants over and over until he has tried nearly everything on the menu–always with a cocktail and frequently with a glass of wine.

There is no escaping high-calorie and decadent food on his diet.

So how exactly does he keep himself healthy?

“Here, we’re blessed with great produce, which makes it easy to eat out and eat well.”

Without a doubt the Bay Area has fantastic farmers markets that make healthy eating a piece of cake, so to speak. But portions at restaurants can also be problematic.

Bauer is careful to distinguish between large chain restaurants and the independent establishments where he dines. High-end Bay Area restaurants show more restraint and offer more reasonable portions than places like Denny’s. This too comes from the difference in food quality.

“Many chains can’t afford to (or don’t) buy pristine seasonal products. Instead they rely on fat, sugar and salt to make foods palatable.”

Better ingredients mean smaller portions and balanced meals. But some of us still find ourselves overeating in restaurants, even here in San Francisco.

“In the Bay Area we love our fried chicken, pork belly and pate, but we also equally embrace vegetables and moderation, which is key.”

Moderation is the holy grail for eating what you want. But it is often easier said than done, especially at fabulous restaurants. Bauer has taught himself not to eat everything he is served, though he grew up in a household “where you clean your plate.”

He says this habit of portion control has evolved naturally over the course of his career, but when pressed further he confessed that his motivation for self-restraint does not always stem from a desire to be healthy. Instead it sits patiently in his home, anxiously awaiting his return.

“I’ve gotten to the point where I start to feel really guilty if I come home without something for my dog.”

Extra meat and other leftovers from Bauer’s meal never go to waste, nor do they add to his waistline. It seems his dog’s taste for high-end dining is Bauer’s biggest diet secret.

Sheba and Bella

Sheba and Bella

Those of us without pets can mimic this tactic by substituting children, roommates, family members, co-workers and even your-future-self-at-lunch-tomorrow as our own calorie-saving opt-outs. The point is to do something to prevent yourself from eating everything in one sitting. Practice moderation and you can eat whatever you like, it does not matter where you get your inspiration.

Bauer admits that small portions and high-quality ingredients are not the only things that keep him svelte. He skips breakfast (though this was muttered with a hint of shame) and only eats a light salad or soup at his desk for lunch.

“I’m also pretty religious about working out every morning on the treadmill. I set the goal of burning 500 calories.”

Having a fast metabolism doesn’t hurt either.

Overall Bauer finds his health by living a balanced life full of nutritious meals, reasonable portions, plenty of exercise and an affectionate relationship with what sounds like the best-fed dog in the city.

Do your pets help you upgrade your healthstyle?

Michael Bauer is the executive food and wine editor and restaurant critic for The San Francisco Chronicle. Read his blog Michael Bauer and follow him on Twitter @michaelbauer1

Also see the commentary in The New York Times Well blog by Tara Parker-Pope.

Correction: This post was changed to correct an error. Bauer normally eats dinner with a companion, not by himself.

Read more How To Eat In Restaurants:

  1. Healthy Tips for Real Life
  2. Neighborhood Convenience
  3. Sit-Down Chains
  4. Healthy Advice From SF Food Critic Michael Bauer
  5. The Truly Special Occasions

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Farmers Market Update: Independence Day

by | Jul 4, 2010
Rainbow Chard

Rainbow Chard

My eyes were deceiving me on Saturday morning, because it seemed as though the 4th of July fireworks started early here in San Francisco. The farmers market was virtually exploding with colors–fruits, vegetables, flowers, mushrooms. It was magical.

The rainbow chard was so beautiful at Dirty Girl Produce people were exclaiming at how magnificent it looked as I carried it away. The flowers and kale at Green Gulch Farm were also something to behold.

Kale & Flowers

Kale & Flowers

Rainbow Chard Stems

Rainbow Chard Stems

Summer squash is now in season and I’ve been enjoying it both raw (in salads) and cooked. It’s great grilled, or stir fried with peppers, beans, corn and greens. My favorite are the yellow and green zephyr squash, the ones I used in my squash pasta recipe last week. This probably sounds weird, but I swear they are as sweet as candy.

Summer Squash

Summer Squash

Zephyr Squash

Zephyr Squash

Fruit is still the main attraction at the market these days, however.

White Peaches

White Peaches

Peaches, apricots, nectarines and plums are absolutely perfect right now, but the cherries are already on their way out. Don’t get too sad though, the early fig crop is already starting to appear.

Figs

Figs

Yummy Rosa Pluots

Yummy Rosa Pluots

There are a few seasonal novelties available now that are also worth mentioning. I spied nopales (aka cactus leaves) today, as well as bitter melon.

Bitter Melon

Bitter Melon

Nopales

Nopales

Green garlic should be around for a few more weeks, and you can even still get baby broccoli, cauliflower and romanesco.

Romanesco

Romanesco

Green Garlic

Green Garlic

And if you happen to stop by Far West Fungi, porcini are in season.

Porcini Mushrooms

Porcini Mushrooms

Today’s purchases:

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For The Love Of Food

by | Jul 2, 2010

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

Great reading this week. There are 1,001 reasons industrial food will kill you, but I also found a few great videos with DIY cooking tips. There were also a few decent science stories in the LA Times.

I read many more wonderful articles than I post here each week. If you’d like to see more or just don’t want to wait until Friday, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. For a complete reading list join me on the new Digg or StumbleUpon. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

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