5 Things Dietitians Order at Restaurants

Released: Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Whether you're going strong in the nutrition department or you're struggling to stay on track, chances are at some point you've encountered the challenge of a restaurant menu. It can be difficult to navigate tasty menu options when you're away from home, so the registered dietitians at LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center compiled a few of their favorite options for dining out that are full of flavor but low on calories.

  • Mexican: While you might be enticed by the fried options, one flavorful choice with a fresh twist is grilled fish tacos. "The grilled fish is a good lean protein choice, and it typically comes with fresh slaw, pico de gallo and a bit of guacamole to put on top. It has the added benefit of some extra nutrients from the veggies and healthy fat from the avocado," said registered dietitian Renee Puyau.
  • Greek or Lebanese: A lighter selection that packs plenty of flavor is a chicken shawarma meal. The grilled chicken is an excellent low-fat lean protein lunch choice that can help keep you full until dinner. You can double up on the salad as a side item to make sure you are getting plenty of fiber, plus you will still have room to enjoy pita bread without consuming too many carbohydrates.
  • Breakfast: A great on-the-go option offered at many fast food restaurants is oatmeal with fruit or nuts on top. It's a favorite for dietitian Cathy Carmichael when she's traveling. Oatmeal can help you feel fuller longer, so you may not be tempted to snack before lunchtime. Topping it with nuts can provide additional protein and healthy fats. Some added fruit ensures a little sweetness while offering antioxidants and vitamin-C.
  • Coffee treat: It's easy to forget how many calories some beverages can contain, but it's not difficult to shave off the calories in your favorite early-morning or mid-afternoon coffee indulgence. Try the low-fat versions that are often offered, such as a low-fat café au lait, and ask for 2% or skim milk as an alternative to full-fat milk. At many coffee houses, you can get a large café au lait with skim milk for the same calorie count as a small version of the full-fat drink. Who doesn't want extra coffee for fewer calories?
  • Louisiana classics: Sometimes you just can't pass up the original. If that oyster poboy is calling your name or you're craving shrimp etouffee, it's fine to splurge once in a while. The key to not falling off the bandwagon with delicious Louisiana classics is to order healthier side dishes—instead of French fries, try a side salad with light dressing. Instead of a loaded baked potato, opting for a fresh vegetable mix can help keep the calorie count low enough to leave the restaurant guilt-free.

When friends from Boston visited and wanted to try authentic New Orleans gastronomy, Carmichael ordered blue crab beignets for the first course, but saved on calories later with later courses. "I balanced our appetizer choice by ordering beef tenderloin for my entrée, and then I decided to pass on dessert," she said.

If you know ahead of time that portion sizes will be large, ask for a to-go box when you order and stash half of your meal away for later and avoid the temptation to overeat.

Pennington Biomedical offers quarterly nutrition and wellness classes with community partners. To find out details on where and when they'll be offering free educational opportunities, follow them on Facebook (Facebook.com/PenningtonBiomedical) and Twitter (@penningtonbiomed). For more on how you can participate in Pennington Biomedical's health research, visit www.pbrc.edu/healthierLA.

For more information on how you can support this and other projects at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, visit www.pbrf.org.