The Grand Finale

6 Aug

We’ve reached the finale of my meal posts: dinner. We’ll talk a little bit about at-home meals, but I would also like to talk about how you can eat healthy at restaurants. Let’s get started!

Cooking Dinner at Home

My first rule about cooking dinner at home is to relax and take the pressure off. I hardly ever follow recipes to a T. I simply don’t have time to choose a new recipe for every night of the week and take multiple trips to the store to gather every ingredient. So stop worrying and take the pressure off! You aren’t going to enjoy cooking if it turns in to a time-consuming hassle. I occasionally flip through my cookbook collection, magazines, and websites for inspiration. Then once a week I buy my staples (a future post topic??) and a few wild cards if I find a specific recipe I’d like to try. Then I adapt recipes and use whatever I have in the fridge. Cooking should be fun- a chance to get creative!

I have a standard blueprint for planning a dinner menu: a vegetable, a starch, and a protein in a 2:1:1 ratio on my plate. After that, it’s a free-for-all.  Here are a few examples…

yellowfin tuna, warm pesto potato salad, and broccoli rabe

(notice the vegetable portion is twice the size of the starch and protein portions)


lentil Snobby Joe’s  w/ no bun, roasted root vegetables, and a cucumber tomato salad



Ancient Harvest quinoa pasta w/ chickpeas, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, and a sprinkle of goat cheese



grilled mahi mahi, stir-fried veggies, and red quinoa



Veggie Lasagna Roll-Ups: whole-wheat lasagna noodles, mixed veggies, goat cheese, red sauce with crumbled tempeh, and an unpictured green salad


Eating Dinner at Restaurants

I wish I could tell you to go ahead and indulge when you go out! Isn’t that why you’re going out?? Isn’t it a special occasion?? Probably not. Americans eat an average of 4-5 restaurant/fast-food meals per week. St. Louis has many, many fabulous restaurants for a foodie like me to explore, so I understand the temptation to go out for dinner. My goal is to arm you with some strategies to prevent your restaurant meal from doing major damage.

1) Plan for it. If you know you are going out for dinner, make the rest of the day’s meals clean and healthy. Lots of veggies, lots of fiber, lots of water. DO NOT starve yourself all day to “save up” for your restaurant dinner. You’ll end up gorging yourself because 1. you’ll be starving and 2. you’ll have the false sense that you “deserve” the appetizer, pasta dish… and a dessert.

2) The internet is your friend. Although not always posted in the establishment, most fast-food and restaurant chains have their nutrition information posted online. It’s a great idea to look over the menu and nutrition info online before you go to a restaurant so you have a plan. For example, if you see that the Olive Garden Fettuccini Alfredo is 1,220 calories (!!!), then you might think twice about ordering it- or at least only eat a small portion of it. Know your food.

3) Remember: it’s not their job to keep you healthy. It’s their job to make food that tastes good and keeps you coming back for more. Humans crave salt, sugar, and fat and you can bet most restaurant meals are loaded with all three. Even the veggies are usually sauteed in liberal amounts of butter and oil. Some menus have “healthy” choices, but remember that they are probably “healthy in comparison to everything else on the menu” choices. Be aware and remember that most restaurant food is an indulgence- even if it’s a “healthy” option.

4) Watch your portions. You’ve heard this one a million times. Restaurants are known for their HUGE portions. Many include 3-4 servings. You can use the old “can you please wrap half the portion in a doggie bag before you bring the meal out” trick OR you can test your willpower (I never suggest this) and only eat a proper-sized portion. Another trick: use your smaller salad or bread plate to serve yourself from your platter dinner plate. (Remember the plate size rules?)

5) Know what to look for- and what to avoid. The descriptive words on the menu can tell you a lot about the nutrition of a dish. Words like fried, au gratin, battered, breaded, escalloped, stuffed, creamy, and sauteed are cues that the dish is full of unhealthy fat. To spot dishes that are more healthfully prepared, look for words like steamed, grilled, baked, broiled, and roasted.

6) Water, cocktail, water. When you are out to dinner with a large group and the conversation is engaging and the wine is flowing, it’s easy to get carried away. More alcohol = less inhibition = tendency to eat and indulge more. More alcohol also = more calories consumed- not to mention they are nutritionally empty calories. It’s okay to have a few drinks (I usually set a limit of 2), but alternate your alcoholic drinks with a tall glass of water. This will slow you down (and decrease your hangover!)

7) Don’t forget to enjoy yourself! After all, the purpose of going out to dinner is to relax and enjoy. Normally I would advise you to skip the bread basket. It’s too easy to engage in mindless eating. But if you loooooove those warm dinner rolls and reeeeally look forward to it, then have one. Just one. And eat it slowly, be present, and savor every bite. If you ordered the plain grilled chicken and veggies but you really wanted the fried chicken, then get the fried chicken. You’ll end up feeling unsatisfied if you order something that doesn’t taste good to you, and dissatisfaction usually leads to over-eating. BUT try to make a trade like… get the fried chicken, but pass on dessert OR get a salad and the fried chicken but only eat one piece OR ask a dinner companion to share the fried chicken + a healthier option with you.

It’s perfectly okay to indulge now and then, just be aware of what you’re eating (there’s nothing worse than being oblivious to what you put in your body) and slow down, be present, and savor every bite!

**Check out for nutrition info on your favorite foods and restaurants

**Also check out these websites for healthy dinner inspiration…

Happy weekend, blog friends! Thanks for reading 🙂



7 Responses to “The Grand Finale”

  1. Mom August 6, 2010 at 11:04 am #

    Thanks for the reminders!! You know me and bread at dinner…..yikes.
    Love your blog! Love you too! MOM

  2. doris/Jas.g'ma August 8, 2010 at 1:57 pm #

    Hi: Just read your nutrition ideas and agree wholeheartedly with healthy eating at home or away….however, we don’t always adhere to what we know we should do. Keep up the good work !
    Hope all’s going well and you are keeping cool. L&P…….dd/g/ma

    • kayli (Running On Sunshine) August 11, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

      Hi there! I’m so happy to have you as a reader! James and I have been thinking about you a lot and wishing you a speedy recovery. Yes, it’s difficult to always adhere to what we “should” do. All is well here- trying to stay cool and gearing up for another soccer season and semester of school. Hope to see you guys soon!

  3. Cara August 10, 2010 at 3:58 pm #

    I love the new look of the blog! You’re doing great sissy! Love ya

  4. Emily August 11, 2010 at 8:20 am #

    great tips! i follow similar rules for dinner; usually, i try to make half my plate veggies. i rarely eat out because of most of the things you wrote about…most restaurants aren’t in the business of making healthful food (but i do love local harvest)!

    • kayli (Running On Sunshine) August 11, 2010 at 12:13 pm #

      Oh my, I love Local Harvest too! I never feel unhealthy after eating there. We’ll have to have a little blogger meet up if you ever venture back to St. Louis. I actually saw Keith last time I was at LH 🙂

  5. Elina (Healthy and Sane) August 11, 2010 at 8:42 am #

    These are really great tips. I eat pretty healthy at home (I can’t bring myself to use crazy amounts of butter!) but I know I overindulge when out. I definitely still order healthier sounding dishes but also partake in the bread (if it looks good) and dessert for sure so they add up. Being mindful is definitely key to a healthy balance. 🙂

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