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Office Hours: Restaurants, Calories and Hydroponics

by | Jul 26, 2011

I’m holding office hours today at 12pm PST. I’ll be answering questions and discussing the latest food and health news. Specifically I’ll be discussing the latest report that restaurants are underreporting calorie counts of food.

To watch live and join the discussion click the red “Join event” button, login with Twitter or your Vokle account, and enter the password when prompted.

I encourage you to call in with video questions, particularly if your question is nuanced and may involve a back and forth discussion. Please use headphones to call in however, or the feedback from the show is unbearable.

To keep up with live events, get access to exclusive content and have Darya personally answer your food and health questions, sign up for the Tomato Slice newsletter.

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For The Love Of Food

by | Jul 8, 2011

For The Love of Food

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

Wow, please don’t skip your reading this week. There are two excellent stories about the dangers of food imports, an exposé on the bogus “nitrate free” food labels and a fascinating tale of finding zen in the kitchen. All that and more on my top 10 food and health links this week.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Digg. I also share links on Twitter (@summertomato) and the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. 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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For The Love Of Food

by | Jun 24, 2011

For The Love of Food

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

Our oceans seem to be in much worse shape than anyone imagined, food irradiation is back in the forefront of discussions and someone wants to feed you a shit sandwich. All this and more today in my top 10 food and health articles of the week.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Digg. I also share links on Twitter (@summertomato) and the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. 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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8 Inspiring Places To Find Recipe Ideas

by | Apr 27, 2011
Foodie Inspiration

Foodie Inspiration

Healthy eating and cooking for yourself go hand in hand. If you have the resources it is possible to eat healthy while dining out, but restaurants that don’t use processed foods can be difficult to find and tend to be pricey. They also limit you to a handful of different dishes that can become monotonous if you rely on them for most of your meals.

But keeping your healthstyle interesting can be a challenge even if you cook for yourself. Although shopping in season inevitably rotates you through new ingredients over the course of the year, we can still slip into the pattern of making the same dishes over and over again. And while repetition can be easy and comforting, it can also be problematic.

Monotony and boredom are your enemies if you are trying to make healthy eating a way of life; junk food will be extra tempting simply because it’s more interesting than the same boring meal you’ve had 10 times before.

To keep yourself from getting in a cooking rut you must actively seek inspiration for new dishes and flavor combinations. This is true for both kitchen newbies and seasoned chefs, and it gets easier with practice. The more you learn to outsource your creativity and experiment, the better you get at finding meal ideas in your daily life.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. These are some places I often find new ideas, but you are only limited by your imagination.

8 Places To Cook Up Recipe Inspiration

1. Farmers markets

My number one source of inspiration is always the beautiful produce and other goodies I find each week at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Not only do I often find interesting new ingredients to experiment with, I also find familiar foods that look so fresh and delicious I can’t help but buy them and turn them into something wonderful.

If you are thinking about buying something but do not know how to cook it, ask the vendor for ideas or common preparations. I recommend you get anything that looks new and interesting, since most vegetables are relatively cheap and Google puts a universe of recipes at your fingertips.

2. Restaurants

Most major cities (San Francisco especially) are home to amazingly talented and innovative chefs of all different styles and flavors. Steal their ideas! If you have a memorable meal while out on the town, take mental notes on the flavors and textures that capture its essence. You don’t have to be able to recreate it exactly at home, but you can definitely borrow the concept, simplify it and adapt it to your own skills and needs.

For example, I was recently struck by a dish at a spectacular restaurant that was composed of beets with dill–a flavor combination I had never tried. The dish was technically complicated and I wouldn’t bother attempting to make it the same way, but later that week I did roast some beets and change up my usual recipe to include dill instead of mint (sans chèvre). Turned out fantastic.

3. Food blogs

The number of outstanding food blogs today on the interwebs is staggering, and I love to skim through them looking for wonderful recipe ideas. I can’t even begin to list all my favorite sites here, but I try to highlight at least one mouthwatering recipe each week in For The Love of Food posts.

4. Travel

Nothing inspires enthusiasm for new flavors and recipes like traveling to a different locale. Eating traditional cuisines–the way they are supposed to be made–is one of the most intimate and meaningful ways to engage with a culture. Learn a few of the cuisine’s basic ingredients and cooking techniques and you can bring a tiny bit of your experience home with you. Think of this process as a procedural photograph you can use to remember your trip.

Again, you don’t have to recreate dishes exactly the same way in your own kitchen. Sometimes just a single special ingredient can evoke an entire cultural experience.

5. Friends

We all have that friend who is an amazing cook (love you guys!). Not only does this person sometimes hook you up with delicious treats, chances are your foodie friend also loves to talk about food and cooking. This is a goldmine for new ideas and sometimes even a little help and guidance. Maintain a healthy, food-centric relationship with this person and watch the inspiration roll in.

(Hint: If you don’t have a friend like this come hang out with me on Twitter @summertomato)

6. Books

Cookbooks are wonderful but, to be honest, I rarely use them. The reason is that I’m usually too busy to bother lugging the giant things off the shelf and thumbing through them for something specific. I usually either wing it in the kitchen or search online for what I need.

Literature, however, can be a huge inspiration for me to try out new things in the kitchen. It wasn’t until I read The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie that I really started exploring Indian cooking. The Last Chinese Chef helped me learn to appreciate the depth of Chinese cuisine. And I cannot eat enough Spanish tapas when I’m reading Hemingway.

7. Podcasts and radio

I love Mondays because all my favorite food podcasts are waiting on my iPhone for me to listen to on my commute. Both entertaining and educational, foodie podcasts never fail to inspire me to try new foods and cooking methods. They also make me a better cook by describing tips and techniques I am unfamiliar with.

8. TV

Although I do not watch TV regularly, there was a time when I would catch a periodic episode of Top Chef or other foodie show. What I enjoyed most about these programs was the times they would explain the decision making process that goes into creating a dish. But even if culinary improvisation isn’t in your cards, you can at least borrow their ideas (just like at a restaurant) and make similar meals for yourself at home. The recipes used are often posted online.

You can also get meal ideas from TV dramas and sitcoms. Remember Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi? That’s where I first learned about mulligatawny.

Recipe inspiration can come from anywhere, but if you aren’t looking for it a stroke of genius may pass you by.

Where do you get your inspiration in the kitchen?

Originally published February 24, 2010.

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

by | Jul 7, 2010

by Misserion


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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For The Love Of Food

by | May 7, 2010

For The Love of Food

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

This week I learned that sugar has yet another dirty trick up its sleeve, E. coli can as easily be in industrial lettuce as in industrial meat (ok, I already knew that) and calorie restriction may strengthen your immune system. I also found a handy short video of Dr. Weil explaining the benefits of the 2010 Dirty Dozen produce list.

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 complete reading lists join me on the social bookmarking sites StumbleUpon and Delicious. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you there. (Note: If you want a follow back on Twitter introduce yourself with an @ message).

Links of the week

What did you learn about food and health this week?

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Cooking Up Inspiration: Daniel Patterson of Coi

by | Mar 1, 2010
Photo by Robb North

Photo by Robb North

Finding inspiration to cook something new at home is not always easy, but with a little practice you can learn to pick up recipe ideas from common things in your everyday life.

Daniel Patterson, chef/owner of San Francisco’s acclaimed Coi restaurant, elevates this concept of finding inspiration from daily life to an art form. I asked Patterson about the thought process that goes into creating dishes for the menu at Coi, and how a regular home cook may try to use these principles to inspire his or her own cooking.

At Coi, every dish has an organizing idea. Patterson strives to connect the eater to a particular concept, which may integrate culture and nature, or people and place.

“The idea is so important to me. Cooking is a form of communication.”

A recent addition to the menu at Coi is a dish that Patterson explained as a “foodscape,” evocative of a certain place at a certain time, with a particular feeling. He wanted to capture the essence of late fall into winter in a rural place, when the rains have come and the fields are green. It was intended to evoke the feeling of an older world, where there may be the smell of things like hay, barn and pasture.

To convey this feeling Patterson used hay to flavor the dish, which he recently described in detail in San Francisco Magazine.

Cooking things in hay is a traditional practice. Typically in Europe, big cuts of meat will be roasted in hay, which accomplishes two things: it insulates to preserve heat, and it imparts flavor.

Lamb is something that was traditionally cooked in hay. Patterson wanted to work within this tradition, but reinvent the idea for modern Bay Area diners. Instead of lamb or other meat, Patterson used the hay to flavor carrots, which are extraordinary here locally.

“We look at how things are done traditionally, but bring them into our reality and make them vivid for contemporary palettes.”

Integrating old-world cooking techniques and re-imagining them as contemporary dishes imparts both emotional depth and energy to foods.

But such innovation need not be limited to 4-star kitchens. A home cook can also borrow from cultural traditions and reinvent recipes to reflect ingredient availability and personal preferences.

According to Patterson, you can find inspiration by reading cookbooks and going to markets. “Have curiosity, that is the most important thing.”

Local ingredients are the easiest way to begin. “Cook greens simply with a little rice wine vinegar then think, ‘What would go with that?’ Maybe chicken. Then continue on from there.”

In this way, Patterson says cooking should be intuitive. Yet he acknowledges that we are not starting with the same level of knowledge about food as our ancestors did.

“We need to rebuild our connection to cooking. No one knows what things should taste like anymore. We’re starting disadvantaged compared to our ancestors in the tradition of cooking.”

But as long as we start with simple, fresh ingredients it is possible to learn a few techniques or preparations that can be the foundation for several dishes. Once we have these down we can add complexity and build upon the things we’ve learned.

“Go get any kind of greens. Cook until tender, chop them up, throw them on pasta with some lemon zest and chili flakes, then you’ve created a template that you can use any time you see greens.”

Patterson thinks it is possible for us to reestablish our connection to food culture and give the next generation the advantage most of us never had.

“People cooking with their kids is the best thing they can do. This will be our salvation. My kid will have no taste memory of an industrial food product. Then when he’s older those foods won’t resonate, won’t taste like food.”

The possibility that a new generation of children could grow up without dependence on industrial foods is, of course, Jamie Oliver’s now famous TED Prize wish. That we are now able to even have this discussion, which was probably not possible even 15 years ago, is an inspiration in itself.

What inspires you to cook?

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How To Eat Healthy In Restaurants: The Truly Special Occasions

by | Aug 5, 2009
Birthday Dinner

Birthday Dinner

Until now we have discussed how to eat in restaurants when our choices are being made for convenience or obligation. But on some rare occasions we go out to eat as a true celebration of life.

At these moments the only thing you should consider is enjoyment. That isn’t to say you should stuff yourself silly, but once in a lifetime occasions deserve your undivided attention. Diet and health should be the farthest things from your mind.

Unfortunately, defining these special moments can sometimes get a little tricky.

(This post is part of the series How To Eat In Restaurants. Part one is Healthy Tips for Real Life (or how I learned to stop worrying and never eat fast food), part two is Neighborhood Convenience, part three is Sit-Down Chains and part four is Advice From SF Food Critic Michael Bauer. Get future posts by signing up for email or RSS updates–subscribing is always free of cost and spam.)

The beautiful thing about special occasions is that you define them for yourself. A visit to the French Laundry is remarkable for anyone, but most of us don’t have the same childhood memories of the apple pie grandma makes from her tree every Thanksgiving. If you have the opportunity to experience rare food at a rare event, you should not deprive yourself of this treat.

But occasions like these happen three, maybe four times a year. And odd as it may seem, defining them is not always clear cut.

Take a look at your life. Chances are you have a rather large group of people who make up your extended family and close friends, all of which have annual birthdays, anniversaries and countless other events you will be invited to attend. You also have your own set of special food-related holidays like, well, all of them. Before you know it your “special” meals go from three or four times a year to three or four times a month.

Where do you draw the line?

Here it is important to make a distinction between special moments and special food. If you are honest with yourself about the quality of food in a given situation you will find that more often than not it is nothing to go nuts about. Your co-worker’s birthday at the Cheesecake Factory is special and important (sort of), but the food most definitely is not.

A specific food or meal can be special for any number or reasons. The exquisite quality and technical skills that you find in the world’s top restaurants can be the experience of a lifetime, like witnessing a rare piece of art. But personal memories and associations can also make foods special. These are the foods that are worthy of exceptions.

However, it is all too easy to get caught up in a moment and rationalize reasons to splurge when the food does not really justify such behavior. For example, food abundance like you find at a buffet or on a cruise ship can seem like something special, but it really isn’t. In fact, buffet-style all you can eat menus are a pretty good indication that the food being served is relatively cheap.

In these kinds of special occasions, shift your focus away from the food and onto your friends and family. If you are on vacation, enjoy your meals but focus more on actually doing all the fun activities you envisioned.

If you have trouble talking yourself out of a second pile of ribs, ask yourself when was the last time you made this kind of exception. If it was yesterday, this week or even this month, think twice before you eat and ask yourself if this meal is worth your quarterly splurge. Would you want this food on the menu if it were your last meal on earth? If not, put your fork down and talk to your friends instead.

Distinguishing between special moments and special food is critical, because only extraordinary food is worthy of making exceptions to your healthstyle. Learn to make these moments few and far between. If they occur more often, reexamine your criteria.

If you really like a restaurant but you go there all the time, is it really that special anymore?

Special occasions are what make life worth living and should not be skipped. Just be sure that when it comes to food, your choices are truly exceptional.

What are your exceptional foods?

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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How To Eat Healthy In Restaurants: Sit-Down Chains

by | Jul 22, 2009
by alicereneztay

by alicereneztay

Sit-down chain restaurants like the The Olive Garden and Chili’s vary in quality from very bad to mediocre to maybe-not-as-bad-as-you-might-think. But one thing we can say about them with confidence is that they are ubiquitous. Every small town and suburban neighborhood I’ve ever been to is sprinkled with sit-down mega-chain restaurants, and chances are you will find yourself in one eventually.

(This post is part of the series How To Eat In Restaurants. Part one is Healthy Tips for Real Life (or how I learned to stop worrying and never eat fast food) and part two is Neighborhood Convenience. Get future posts by signing up for email or RSS updates–subscribing is always free of cost and spam.)

Is it possible to navigate these calorie minefields without damaging your waistline or destroying your taste buds?

As was made clear in the recent debate over The Cheesecake Factory, there is a reason restaurants like this exist. For one thing, they are reliable. Since they mass produce the same meal at thousands of locations throughout the country, the quality of the food is consistently uniform. You always know exactly what you are going to get.

Another reason large chain restaurants continue to thrive is they have mastered the art of crowd-pleasing. The menus are massive and you can find something for every taste. They are experts at combining sugar, salt and fat to trick our brains into believing we are eating perfect food. Huge servings and reasonable prices also create the appearance of great value–even if most of what is on your plate qualifies as junk food.

But these restaurants aren’t all bad. While you are unlikely to find an organic salad or quinoa pilaf, the large menu can be amenable to healthy options if you make smart choices and substitute liberally. (Just try not to think about where the food came from).

Menu Language

One of the first steps in navigating the Appleby’s menu is learning the language and knowing which code words signify unnecessary calories.

Avoid dishes that use words like:

  • Glazed
  • Crispy
  • Melted
  • Smothered
  • Breaded
  • Creamy
  • Honey-dipped
  • Crusted
  • Gooey
  • Cheesy

All these words code for either added sugar, added flour (refined carbohydrates) or extra cheese and cream. Skip these items or find an appropriate substitute (see below).

Instead, look for words that signify flavor without extra calories.

Healthy menu words are:

  • Roasted
  • Baked
  • Broiled
  • Rubbed
  • Seared
  • Grilled
  • Scented
  • Sauteed
  • Spiced
  • Seasoned

These words can steer you in the direction of healthier food, but you will quickly find the best choice is not always clear cut. Unfortunately, most entrees involve some combination of grilled, melted and glazed.

Substitute and Modify

Once you have found the most appetizing healthy-leaning dish, figure out the one or two things about it that likely add the most calories. Get around these annoyances by making use of the giant menu to get exactly what you want out of your meal. In other words, don’t be afraid to modify your order.

Menu substitutions are not appropriate in every venue (high-end dining comes to mind), but at large chain restaurants substituting is a way of life.

The number one thing you want to avoid is refined carbohydrates. Stay away from the pastas, breads, potatoes, pot pies and anything else made with flour. Also avoid breaded and battered foods that are covered in flour then deep-fried. This can get tricky, however, because sauces and dressings can be a hidden source of sugar, starch and other unnecessary calories.

With sauces, ordering them on the side and using just what you need is an easy way to cut down on calories. For salads I frequently trade in the dressing for oil and vinegar. Salad oils are healthy, but sugar and salt can be a problem in dressings.

One of my favorite tricks for restaurant salads is substituting iceberg or romaine lettuce for spring greens. I also like to swap out bacon for a boiled egg or avocado. In essence, I try to create more balanced meals by trading empty calories for nutritious foods.

Entire side dishes can also be replaced upon request. Potatoes in any form I swap for salad, vegetables or fruit. Brown rice can sometimes be ordered instead of white rice or pilaf.


Even though you have found something reasonably healthy to order, portion sizes at these restaurants can still sabotage your health. Our brains are wired to eat everything we see on our plates–hunger has almost nothing to do with how much we decide to eat.

The best way to get combat restaurant portions is to decide in advance to find another use for half the food on your plate. Sharing with a friend is a great solution, particularly if the table is ordering appetizers as well. Alternatively you can take the rest of your food home and eat it later.

I usually estimate cake, ice cream and other desserts to come in around 50 calories or more per bite (take a minute and let that sink in). Do not be the one who orders dessert in these restaurants. Remember, just like in neighborhood restaurants this food is not particularly special. You can get it anywhere and it will always taste the same. Save the extra calories for meals that are truly special.


Deciphering the language of hidden calories is the first step to surviving a meal at sit-down chain restaurants. Take advantage of the mega menus to find healthy alternatives for the worst calorie sinks in your order. To cancel the colossal portions of less-than-special food, recruit a friend to share or have another plan to prevent overeating–you really won’t be missing anything.

How do you handle sit-down chain restaurants?

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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How To Eat Healthy In Restaurants: Neighborhood Convenience

by | Jul 13, 2009
Neighborhood Restaurants

Neighborhood Restaurants

I spent a lot of time last week bashing fast food and all other convenience foods in general. And I stand by every word of it. But today I would like to clarify that I have nothing against quick, affordable restaurants. By this I mean your local taco joint or phở spot, which can be the perfect place for a quick bite before the game or to meet up with friends.

(This post is part of the series How To Eat In Restaurants. Part one is Healthy Tips for Real Life (or how I learned to stop worrying and never eat fast food). Get future posts by signing up for email or RSS updates–subscribing is always free of cost and spam.)

The distinction between convenient, local mom-and-pop restaurants and multinational fast food chains is huge. For one thing, smaller operations have better access to fresh food and are more likely to use real ingredients. For this reason, the food can taste a hundred times better than anything you could find at Burger King. Of course the food is not guaranteed to be good, but it is certainly possible.

For me, the biggest difference between places like this and fast food is that what you get is actually tasty. A BigMac doesn’t tempt me in the slightest, but a carne asada burrito is pretty hard to resist. These burritos can be large enough to feed a small village for a week though, so how do we know where to draw the line?

I never let food rules interfere with my ability to have a good time (okay, I do occasionally), but there are a few things I try to keep in mind when I’m going to one of my favorite local restaurants to make sure too much damage isn’t done.

Things to remember when eating at neighborhood restaurants

  • Don’t go nuts By its very nature this food is not particularly special. Sure it can be delicious, but we have just defined it as being convenient and affordable, so the fact is you can get it whenever you want. Show a little restraint with your eating and don’t act as if this is your last meal on earth. If it’s that good you can come back and have it again next week.
  • Ordering is half the battle The first minefield you encounter in these places is the menu. In my experience neighborhood restaurants tend to have expansive menus with a zillion options. In many of these places, most of the stuff on the menu tastes pretty good so ordering something a little smaller or a bit healthier is not a big sacrifice. A good decision can save you hundreds of calories and an hour on the treadmill. Keep that in mind when perusing your choices.
  • Seek out extra vegetables Personally I just don’t feel right without having something green on my plate, and I always try to make sure there is a pile of at least something healthy. At some of my favorite Mexican places this can sometimes just mean a side of guacamole, but at least I know I’m doing something good for me. The nice thing about vegetables (and healthy fats) is they contribute to your feeling full and can help your self-control when attempting the next point….
  • Watch the carbs Carbs are usually the biggest problem at places like this. Most small restaurants assume that Americans are expecting giant portions and so they fulfill that expectation by piling on cheap and unimpressive refined grains. Rice, noodles, bread and chips are the biggest offenders. I avoid these by either ordering something vegetable or meat based, asking for substitutions or just not eating this portion of my meal.
  • Remember to substitute I don’t know why this is so easy to forget, but try to remember! Substitutions and special requests can mean the difference between a healthy meal and an “oops” meal. Swap out fries for a salad, lose your white rice for brown (or beans or vegetables) and trade in iceberg lettuce for the spring greens. People often look at my plate with envy when we’ve ordered the same thing but mine shows up filled with vibrant salad instead of a pile of soggy potatoes. Don’t be the one who thinks, “I should have thought of that.”
  • Learn to share Like the idea of having a salad but want to try a couple fries too? How about make a deal with your dining partner to share the two, so you can each enjoy a little salad and a few fries. Another easy way to cut down on calories is to share an appetizer and entrée between two people. This is always more than enough food for me and friend and allows for a small indulgence without completely throwing your health out the window.
  • Don’t clean your plate Again, no matter how it tastes this food is not particularly special. Do not feel obligated to eat it all at one sitting. You can take the rest home or just leave it for the wait staff to haul away. It’s cheap, remember? Eat slow, drink your water, eat what you like and then stop. I know this is different from everything we’ve been taught about the value of food, but your health is far more important than 25 cents worth of rice. It can be a little easier if you take your leftovers to go and offer them to a homeless person. I do this all the time and they seem to really appreciate it.

What are your healthy tips for eating in neighborhood restaurants?

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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