Lots of Cuisines, Lots of Choice
Updated: Sep 22
Whether you’re dining in or taking away, making better menu choices means you can enjoy foods you love but still stay on track nutritionally. Our health correspondent Stacey picks three of the most popular cuisines and offers ordering advice.
Cheesy burritos and quesadillas may be delicious, but there are better, healthier choices on the menu if you just a look carefully.
What to Eat?
Start with guac and veggies. Most places serve with corn chips, but cut veg is an easy substitute to request. Tortilla soup is another good starter.
Grilled fish tacos or soft chicken tacos are a good main. Ask to substitute corn tortillas for the flour tortillas to save additional calories—and gain lots of flavor if you ask me! Skip the rice and add a side of black beans and a salad to round out the meal. Make salsa your go-to condiment. Ask for any creamy sauces, extra guacamole, and sour cream to be put on the side and use them sparingly.
Another awesome Mexican main is fajitas. This is the one dish where you can control the amount of meat, veggies and toppings. Ask for sliced avocado and extra salsa, then skip the sour cream altogether.
Delicious as they are, Margaritas may pose a bigger problem than your food. Some restaurant frozen margaritas can clock in at over 400 calories. Ask for a classic margarita on the rocks—made from only tequila, triple sec and lime juice; you’ll top out at around 150 calories or so per drink. Remember that still adds up quickly if you are watching your waistline!
Greek foods have a pretty healthy reputation and for good reason. With a healthy mix of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats and unsaturated fats, the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, some cancers, and other chronic diseases. However, restaurant versions of Mediterranean dishes may not be as healthy. Dishes may be loaded with cheese or creamy sauces (moussaka) or deep-fried (falafel).
What to eat?
Spread sparingly! Mediterranean restaurants are known for their delicious dips. But, half a pita and a couple of tablespoons of a variety of dips can easily add up to several hundred calories—that is before the meal has even begun. Ask for cut veggies instead of the pita and spoon the dips out onto your plate so you see how much you are getting. Saving the dips for your main course is also a good option.
A fresh Greek salad is a great start to your meal—as long as they haven’t heaped on the feta. Just ask for less cheese and enjoy.
Spanakopita is another dish that can rack up the calories from cheese (and olive oil and butter) so best to steer clear of this one. Grilled octopus is a better option for a starter.
Souvlaki is a classic Greek dish and one that scores high on the healthy scale as a good source of lean protein and lots of veggies.
Mediterranean cuisine is also known for its simple fish. Go grilled and you can’t go wrong.
Even though cream-laden pastas and cheesy pizzas are usually front and center on any Italian menu, ordering a healthy meal is not that difficult if you know where to look!
What to eat?
Filling up with a fiber-rich starter salad is a good way to keep from overeating the higher calorie entrees, though steer away from antipasto salad laden with cheese and calorie-heavy deli meats. Soup, like minestrone, is another way to curb hunger before your main is served. By the time you finish your soup or salad, you are less likely to overeat your main and may actually elect to take half home with you.
Cioppino, a hearty seafood stew, is an excellent choice. Healthy protein from the fish and shellfish and cooked tomatoes provide lots of nutrients. And of course, fresh grilled or lightly sautéed fish is always a great option.
Pastas aren’t off-limits, but the dish you choose matters. Order pasta primavera with carrots, zucchini, peppers and other veggies and a lean protein such as chicken or shrimp. Red or clam sauce pastas are other good options.
And as with other larger, higher calorie entrees, splitting a main with a dining companion is a sensible choice.
No matter what you’re eating, one super healthy order is a to-go box!! Don’t feel like you have to finish everything on your plate. A good strategy is to eat half of what is served and save the rest for another meal.