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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9 Responses to “How To Eat Healthy In Restaurants: Advice from SF food critic Michael Bauer”

  1. jennifer says:

    This article was very interesting. I wish I lived somewhere like SF, rather than Texas where EVERYTHING (including portions) is bigger.

    One thing I don’t agree with, however, is feeding leftovers to your dog. As a former editor on a pet magazine, I’ve seen a lot of people have problems with their dogs due to feeding them tablescraps and leftovers.

    Dog owners should avoid feeding too much human food to their pets. Dogs have sensitive digestive tracts and human food doesn’t always agree with them. Also, dogs can become obese, just like humans, from eating too much people food. And if you–even accidentally–feed the wrong food to your dog (such as chocolate), it can become sick and/or die.

    Dog food is formulated to be healthy for pets (if you buy the right brand, of course). That’s really all that a dog should be eating, aside from the occasional treat of people food.

  2. Peter says:

    Is that why it’s called a doggie-bag?

    I think bagging extra portions early is a good idea. Often a dish will come and I will know that it is too much and say to myself, well I’ll just take the extra home. But by the end of the meal, the extra portion seems to have disappeared. If you ask for a to-go box as soon as your too large dish comes, you can box half right away.

    Yeah, this can be tacky, especially in a fancy place. Maybe you can look at it as sending a not-so-subtle message about portion size to the chef. Or try to be a little subtle about it. But I think it’s worth the tackiness if you can avoid stuffing yourself silly.

    • Darya Pino says:

      The nice thing about the fancy places is that, as Bauer pointed out, they do a much better job with their portions. If you are having multiple courses it can get to be a problem though!

  3. Scott says:

    Hey Darya, howd you score an interview with MB?! And how did you get those pictures of his dogs?

  4. I don’t feed leftovers to my dog, but I do need to take her for walks every day — no matter how lazy I’m feeling — so that’s how she helps keep me healthy.

  5. julie says:

    I’ve come to expect that I don’t finish my meals, so just bring a tupperware along with me. I don’t have to make extra trash, save servers a step, and have lunch for the next day.

  6. Hannah says:

    Thanks for this timely post, Darya. These tips are sure to help me in my quest to find the balance between taste and health when eating out!

    H :)

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