Fine Dining For the Health Conscious
As much as I love to cook and prepare meals, part of being a self proclaimed “foodie” also means that I enjoy experiencing the talents and personalities of other well renowned chefs and their establishments. To put it bluntly, I like to eat and I like to eat well.
A common misconception that many people seem to form when it comes to dining out is that it’s an instant diet wrecker. Most of the menu options contain just about a day’s worth of calories, the portions are ridiculously oversized, and there are very slim options in the “light fare” when it comes to fine dining.
I’m not necessarily arguing any of those points, but I also feel as though experiencing first class food should be incorporated into any lifestyle and no one should have to feel guilty after a truly life changing meal.
There was a time when I would be the diner that would seek out the most “diet-friendly” option on the menu, which would usually leave me feeling unsatisfied and deprived of some extraordinary cuisine. Since then, I’ve learned to appreciate food and cooking in a more sophisticated fashion, but I’ve also realized that there is a way to walk out of a dining experience feeling as though you’ve genuinely treated yourself without feeling ashamed for indulging.
Here are some dining out tactics that I use to achieve that without compromising my healthy eating beliefs.
Choose a restaurant that is known for using fresh local ingredients- I honestly seek out these establishments because I firmly believe in their focus. To me, using fresh and more importantly, local ingredients is better than compensating calories for any pre-packaged diet option. How assuring to know that the foods that are being prepared for you are coming from a nearby farm than a meat packing plant half way across the world.
Utilize coupons- There are so many great coupon companies out there that usually partner with respectable restaurants. Groupon, Living Social, and Half Off Harrisburg are a few that I subscribe to and receive daily emails for some great deals. You can usually score up to half off your bill so it’s a great way to experience new places and menus that you might not normally be quick to try.
Ask about your meal- The one thing I love about going to a local restaurant is that the chef and staff are usually passionate about the service and food they provide. As a cook I can relate. I want people to enjoy what I prepare so I love to explain my recipes and food creations. If you are curious about a certain dish on a menu, ask your waiter to elaborate on it. Don’t be afraid to ask how it is prepared or if it’s okay to alter it in any way. Their number one goal is to have you leave their restaurant feeling completely satisfied so if you have a preference in a cooking style or ingredient, speak up!
Ask for less- Many dishes sound delicious but also have a few ingredients that you know aren’t the best decision for your waistline. In that case, rather than completely eliminating the dish or ingredient, ask for less of it. Ask them to go light on the cheese, or have the sauce presented on the side. That way, you can still get a full taste of the meal but with a bit more control.
Share- This sounds like a no-brainer but I don’t think enough people take advantage of it. Many times, dinner portions are enough for two people. If you are out with another diner who is down for sharing, order a few appetizers and split a meal that you both really want to try. Dessert is also a perfect option to go halves on. Maybe there is an award winning flourless chocolate cake on the menu that is too hard to pass up. Go ahead and order it and ask for two forks. If your dining partner isn’t up for it, ask the waiter to portion half of it in a to-go box and bring you the other half to enjoy.
Embrace the entire experience- When I go out to eat, I like to see it as more of an overall experience than just a reason to put food in my stomach. I want the full effect and I wouldn’t pay for something that I didn’t think I was going to enjoy just to save on a few calories. For this reason, I choose to make dining out a special occasion, which usually occurs a couple times a month. Knowing that this falls out of line with my daily eating habits, I feel more entitled to embrace different foods that I normally wouldn’t eat, so that means ordering a glass of wine with my meal and more than likely enjoying dessert over an after dinner cappuccino. When I’m out, I expect to be there for more than an hour. You’re paying good money to have someone prepare your food so take advantage of the whole picture.
Dining should be a pleasure experience, not a stressful one. I believe Virginia Wolfe was able to say it best, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
Lauren is the voice behind Say What You Need to Say where she chronicles her daily life of health, fitness, and food.