Sunday, November 14, 2010


I was asked my opinion on how to handle restaurant meals.  I think that much of the answer depends on who is dining.

For somebody new to healthy eating, restaurants are almost always a bad idea IMO.  They are minefields that take a lot of experience to negotiate, and there are many traps for the inexperienced.

In general, I treat restaurants as feast days unless I am absolutely certain how they prepare the food.  It is very common for waiters or managers to tell you that there are no animal products or dairy in the food when there are, or all whole grains when they aren't.  These people usually don't know, and they are probably correct in assuming that most people want only to hear that the food is healthy rather than wanting to insure that it is.  It is also very common to incorrectly assume that something is healthy because it is represented as vegan- take a look at what goes into the typical veggie burger.

I have had rice that was steamed in animal broth, and lots of food that clearly had tons of oil and salt despite what I was told.  You just have to assume that anything you order at a restaurant is dangerous to your health unless proven otherwise.

My theory is to try to avoid restaurants if you can.  The one thing that can be said for sure is that you have no direct control over the preparation of your food.  Here are some ways to avoid restaurant food -
- If you can, eat beforehand so that you are not hungry.
- Buy a Bento Box like this
That way, you can always pack something to eat.
- Bring snacks like apples, bananas, etc.
- If you have to travel, use the web to find stores where you can purchase healthy food.  If you are driving, take your rice cooker etc. with you and find a motel with a microwave.  You could also take a steamer with you as discussed earlier in this blog.

Avoiding restaurants, you will save money and increase the control you have over your food.  But sometimes the realities of life demand that you eat at a restaurant.  Suck it up and order something healthy even if you have to pay what seems way too much to get something not on the menu.  Call ahead to make sure that the restaurant can give you what you need.  If they can't, find someplace that can.

A baked potato is safe if not coated with grease.  Steamed vegetables and rice are usually safe if not cooked in meat broth or with unknown sauces.  Make sure to order it plain.  Remember that any bread almost certainly contains added fat and/or salt and is not whole grain.  If you have a weight problem, you don't want bread anyhow.  Remember that marinara and other sauces almost always have added oil.  A skipped meal is better than eating unhealthy - especially if you have a health problem that you are trying to reverse.

For a person who is in good health, I see nothing wrong with the occasional restaurant meal at all if you know that the place cooks what you need.  When I find a place that does understand what I need, I make sure to patronize that place and be generous with the staff.

What you will find, I am afraid, is that the only foods that a restaurant can prepare for you that are good are going to be very bland, and not nearly as tasty as what you can do for yourself at home.  It isn't their fault.  They are used to making food tasty the American way, by adding fat, sugar, and salt to the food.  That is what the overwhelming majority of their customers want, unless it is a specialty restaurant.

And finally, don't think that just because a place is vegan that it is healthy.  The vegan restaurants I have seen are often worse than a McDonald's or Burger King with respect to finding something healthy that you can eat.

This lifestyle will give you tremendous, even unbelievable benefits.  But it does require change, and part of that change is giving up some things that have done you harm.  For the most part, that includes tasty restaurant food.  So use the money you save eating this way to indulge yourself in other ways.


  1. If I'm going to be gone all day, say to a doctor's appointment that is 1 hour's drive away, I bring along freshly baked potatoes. I wrap them in a kitchen towel and they stay warm for a very long time that way. I also usually have apples, carrots and sometimes we stop at a store to buy more if needed.

    I love the Bento boxes and would like to have at least one set of them!

  2. For my usual gone-all-day trips, I, like Mrs. D, go fully armed with my microwave small potatoes, carrots, and tiny tomatoes. The hardest part of dining out is when friends invite you. "My parents are visiting and they'd love to meet you," "I used to work with the chef, he's great," and so on. And I have had to totally overcome my tendency not to make people uncomfortable, and simply say, "I cannot have added fat or oil in any form!" My husband is surprisingly great in insisting that the restaurant hear my request correctly. I'm so pleased, because I was so worried when I started this way of eating that he'd be embarrassed by my demands, and instead he is still my white knight!