It’s April 2020 and most of the U.S. is following “shelter in place” orders, which means non-essential businesses are closed. Some restaurants are offering pick up and delivery, and we all want to support them during our time being “Safer at Home” or quarantined. Family-owned restaurants and other small businesses don’t stand a chance if we don’t support them during this time! We want them to stay in business so we can visit them again when this is all over. We also need to stay healthy, and a big part of what we need to stay healthy is real, nutrient-dense food! The best way to eat real, whole foods is to cook your meals at home, but it is possible to eat relatively healthy while still supporting local restaurants while they are trying to stay afloat offering delivery and curbside pickup. Here are some tips on how to eat healthy while supporting your favorite restaurants!
When eating out, or in our current situation—getting take-out or delivery, the idea is to avoid highly processed foods, sugar, seed oils (canola, soy, cottonseed), gluten and most grains, and sometimes dairy. These items cause inflammation, damage the gut, raise blood sugar, and are generally not nutritious! The tips I share here will help you navigate restaurant food while avoiding the majority of these unhealthy foods as much as possible. Because there are many ways of eating healthy, the guidelines here are not specifically paleo or keto/low carb, so use the information and adjust accordingly.
General tips that apply to all restaurants
Look at the menus of a few different restaurants before deciding where you will order. That way you can see which place has the healthiest options.
Call and ask questions. Most restaurants are happy to answer any questions about their ingredients or about the accommodations that they can make for dietary restrictions.
Check social media. Many restaurants that have remained open for pick up and delivery use social media to keep customers informed about current menu items, specials, and changes to their business. If you havent already, follow your favorite businesses on Facebook and Instagram!
Here are some tips on specific cuisines and what menu items are healthiest and which ones you should avoid. They are in no particular order, but I have found that Latin American and BBQ restaurants tend to have the healthiest options, while Italian restaurants have the fewest healthy menu items. Generally speaking, avoid bread, pasta, and deep fried foods.
I avoid grains and dairy so you would think that I would avoid burger joints. Not the case. Burgers are one of the easiest foods to modify to make them healthier. You can ask for a lettuce wrap instead of a bun or just go without the bun altogether. I’ve been ordering burgers without a bun for so long that I actually prefer them that way—a bun is just filler! Here’s what to do when ordering from a burger place.
• Order your burger with a lettuce wrap, as a “bowl”, or just with no bun.
• Order a burger with additional meat like bacon or pulled pork. Choose toppings like avocado, guacamole, or fried eggs.
• Avoid fries and onion rings because they are usually fried in unhealthy oils. Choose a side salad, cole slaw, or other veggies.
Chinese, Japanese, Thai, can be a mixed bag of healthy and not healthy.
• Many Chinese restaurants use a lot of soy, unhealthy oils for frying, and MSG in many of their sauces. That said, if your favorite Chinese restaurant doesn’t use MSG (call and ask!), choose items that are sautéed rather than deep fried, and choose white rice or extra veggies instead of fried rice. It’s not perfect, but it’s the better option.
• At Japanese restaurants, also ask for your food to be prepared without MSG. If ordering sushi, choose rolls without tempura or a lot of sauces. When ordering hibachi, grilled meats, seafood, and veggies are also good options.
• Thai restaurants probably have the healthiest options of all the Asian restaurants. Many Thai dishes don’t contain soy, MSG, or wheat. Choose pad Thai, curry dishes, tom kha soup, tom yum soup.
I actually don’t recommend ordering from very traditional Italian restaurants that only serves pizza and pasta. Sorry, those foods just aren’t going to keep you healthy! If your favorite Italian place has more Mediterranean options, then go for it!
• Look for fresh seafood with grilled or sautéed veggies, or a salad with grilled meat.
• If you can swap zucchini noodles for pasta, go for it!
• Avoid pasta, pizza, and bread—I know. All the tasty things.
Mexican food can be a great option for those on a gluten free diet. Avoiding all grains is doable, but you will have to forego the rice and the tortillas. Even though there isn’t a lot of bread in Mexican cuisine, it is always a good idea to call and ask which dishes contain gluten. Many seasonings and sauces may contain gluten, as well as the obvious flour tortillas.
• Good options at a Mexican restaurant include tacos in lettuce wraps, fajitas, or salads. Don’t skimp on the salsa and guac!
• Avoid flour tortillas (tacos, burritos, and chimis), and try to limit tortilla chips because they are usually fried in unhealthy oils.
The great thing about BBQ joints is that they usually offer a lot of options. Most often, you choose a meat like brisket, pulled pork, ribs, or chicken—and then pick a couple of sides like cole slaw, corn, collard greens, potatoes, and green beans. This makes it easy to create a meal that fits into your way of eating.
• Opt for meats that don’t have a lot of sweet sauces like brisket, chicken, or pulled pork (that doesn’t have sauce). Look for sides like green beans or collard greens because they are not full of sugar or unhealthy sauces.
• Skip the cornbread and super sweet BBQ sauces.
Latin American restaurants (Cuban, Puerto Rican, Central American)
I have found it quite easy to find healthy choices when ordering Latin American food. I especially love Cuban food. Although a lot of the side dishes are high in carbs, there are a lot of gluten and grain free options, and there are plenty of options if you don’t do dairy as well.
• Dishes like vaca frita, mofongo, ropa vieja, and paella (if you do rice) are usually great choices. Sides like plantains, yucca, and black beans are somewhat high in carbs, but are gluten and grain free.
• Avoid the deep fried appetizers like empanadas or croquettes.
Support local business!
Eating out (or in) isn’t always perfect, but you can still keep eating healthy food AND still support your favorite local restaurants. If you have the means, please try to keep your favorite restaurants open!
Comment below with your own tips for eating healthy while supporting your local businesses.
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