Most health conscious individuals get a little stressed out when it comes to dining out. Let’s face it, it’s not exactly easy to enjoy a big dinner out on the town without a little over-indulgence. The key to eating well outside of your own kitchen is just knowing that great options always surround us–and we just need to know how to choose the best ones. My favorite dining out experiences revolve around ethnic foods. Whether it’s the incredible flavors or the intense spices, I just can’t seem to get enough!
One of my favorite cheat meals is Mexican food. And really, any kind of Mexican whether it’s a burrito, a tamale, fish tacos, you name it–I love it. One of my local Mexican restaurants serves this dish that has chicken, shrimp, and chorizo (sausage) served piping hot on a skillet with grilled veggies. Ah-maze-ing. And hey, guess what? That’s all ultra low carb right there and super high in protein. Now sure, it comes with rice, beans, and corn tortillas on the side, but that’s just it–“on the side.” I don’t even bother with the side items. I throw some guacamole over the main dish–maybe a little sour cream–and I’m eating like a queen. (Usually I take the rice and tortillas home to the dogs so that they can feel like queens too!)
Just Say No!
What if you have a hard time “just saying no” to the extra carbs when dining out? One tip I can share at least about eating Mexican is to always ask for corn tortillas. Tortillas made from corn are more nutritious, lower in carbs, higher in fiber, and gluten free. Can’t say no to the chips and salsa? What about the margarita? How about this: pick one or the other. Don’t overeat the chips if you go that route, and don’t have more than one drink if you choose the other.
The Thai Master
Most Thai restaurants serve dishes that are protein and veggie based. When you order, simply say “Chicken and cashews, no rice please.” One of my favorite Thai dishes is chicken vermicelli. When I order, and this is quite comical, I ask for “chicken vermicelli, add steamed vegetables, no vermicelli noodles, sub extra lettuce.” Yes, I’m that girl and they’ve looked at me strangely quite a few times. But what I end up with is a ginormous bowl of lettuce, chicken, veggies, peanuts, hot sauce, and broth–it’s like having a spring roll explode into a dinner bowl! I love it! Oh and guess what again? It’s low carb, high in protein, and if you’re careful about the sauces, it could be gluten free too.
Goo-Goo-G’Tikki Aloo: Not Another Beatles’ Song
Indian dishes might be my favorite ethnic cuisine. I love naan and basmati rice. And eating Indian is hard to do so carb-free, but it’s totally doable because what I love most about the food are the juicy tender chicken pieces dripping in gooey tikki and masala sauces. Add lamb, shrimp, samosas, paneer, spinach creamed with spices….ah the flavors! Sure, it’s hard to eat the meal without dunking naan into the masala or without scooping up rice with the chicken, but it’s definitely doable if you just order the meal without rice. Not your style? Tthat’s why I usually save Indian for a cheat/carb-night meal. And when I’m craving Indian during a non-cheat meal day, my local grocery store carries frozen Indian dishes. Almost all of them are high in carbs (most include either rice or naan or both), but Tandoor Chef makes a couple that are very low carb. My favorite is Chicken Tandoori with Spinach. The entire frozen entree has about 4 net carbs and takes only 4 minutes of cook time in the microwave. Just my style.
I love, love, love Greek and Mediterranean foods. I was first turned on to this style of eating when one of my students brought in spanikopita for our Odyssey-Epic Food Day. While I still love spanikopita (cheese, egg, and spinach wrapped in dough) more than I can possibly tell you, I try to only reserve it for special splurge nights. But when I’m craving Mediterranean any other time of the day, there’s no other salad that I love more than a Greek salad.
Now a salad may not sound like anything special, but the catch is that I am not a salad person. While most “health-conscious individuals” don’t mind salads, I really just don’t care for them much at all. But a Greek salad is a different story. Maybe it’s the feta/olive combination that does it for me–or maybe it’s the basil infused olive oil drizzled over the greens–whatever it is, it works. And while most Greek salads are topped perfectly with chicken, my favorite restaurant–upon request–tops my salad with keftedes: meatballs cooked with herbs and onions.
Another one of my favorite local diners is this little place called Xenia. It serves Kurdish food–mainly pitas, kabobs, hummus, and oddly enough, boardwalk fries. It’s hard to eat carb free here because everything is served on a large, fresh, right out of the oven pita. You can even ask for a whole wheat pita as well. I usually order the vegetable kabob and ask for a side of chicken. This might sound strange but what I end up with is a pita, covered in grilled veggies, slathered with whatever tzatziki sauce the chef creates, and topped with a side of grilled chicken. When I’m cutting carbs, I just try to skip the pita. Or eat only half. Or maybe three-quarters. I told you it was tough. But boy is it good!
Other Ethnic Entities
If you haven’t caught on by now, what I’m trying to tell you is that it’s easier than you think to find GOOD food and still feel like you ate a healthy meal. Look around your city, neighborhood, town. Don’t pass by the locally owned small restaurant off in the distance or on the corner of lonely downtown street–you may just find some of the most delicious family recipes you never knew existed. And most locally owned diners use fresher food and better ingredients. There’s this little Ethiopian restaurant down the block from where I live and their food is just to die for! Their Sunday buffet (yes, I said buffet) is a steal! $6 for all-you-can-eat lentils, lamb, beef, chicken, tofu, cabbage, peanut butter soup, pita, puddings, and injera (the spongy bread used to eat the cuisine). Granted, a buffet is never really a great idea for the dieter, but for $6, you almost have to try it at least once. And if you stick to the meats, veggies, and yes–the peanut butter soup which is my favorite–then you can have a high protein, antioxidant rich, amazingly flavorful meal.
Take it To-Go
No matter what you’re craving, you don’t have to let your dining experiences undo your dieting efforts. I only listed my top favorite food splurges, but it’s always easier than you think to turn a splurge into a health-conscious decision. Craving pizza? Try a cauliflower crust, or even a thin, gluten-free crust. Dominoes makes a gluten free pizza and some pizza restaurants serve pizza bowls! At a ball game? It may be messy but pick the brat with onions and peppers and ditch the bun. Going to a party? Munch on the low-carb cheese and sip on a glass of wine. Not only will you keep your carbs in check, but you’ll look classy too. What more can we ask for? There’s always a better option–you just have to find it!
I’ve told you mine, but what about yours? What’s your favorite ethnic dish or dining out splurge?