April 01


Dine Out Well with Tomatoes!

by Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian

Between juggling long commutes, workdays, and kids’ carpool and sports schedules, and being plugged into social media 24/7, we are busier than ever.  And interestingly enough, our increasingly busy schedules parallels with our increased emphasis on healthy lifestyles. According to the 2013 Food & Health Survey, commissioned by the International Food Information Council, 64% of Americans are making food choices based on health. So, whether we’re grocery shopping, planning our family dinners for the week, or eating out, health remains on our radar.

To accommodate our busy, multi-tasking lives, we’re eating out more, too. As of 2011, people are spending 48.7% of their eating dollars on foods consumed outside the home, such as from drive-thrus, coffee shops, cafeterias, and restaurant take-out menus. Let’s face it; it’s fun to eat out—delicious food, great service, and no pesky dishes to clean up. While it’s usually easier to meet your health goals when you do your own cooking at home, there’s no need to avoid dining out altogether.  Plenty of restaurants offer wholesome choices to help you stay on a healthy track.

Just keep this in mind: the more often you carve space on your plate for the “good” stuff like whole grains, lean proteins, and vegetables—including tomato products—you’ll have less room on your plate for the not-so-good stuff, like foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol. So, go ahead, paint your plate red with tomato products for good health and taste—it’s an easy way to fit in an important serving of vegetables while you’re dining out.

Yes, there certainly are ways you can make dining out just as good for your health as it is for your taste buds. Try one of these 6 simple tips the next time your family heads to a restaurant for dinner:

  1. Prep ahead of time. Visit the restaurant website before your dining experience. Scroll through the menu so you can make a plan of attack. Some websites even provide the nutritional information of their dishes; if so, browse through the nutritional facts.
  2. Take the edge off your hunger. Just as shopping at the supermarket while starving can give you “grocery goggles,” restaurant dining on an empty stomach can also be a trap. Rather than reaching for the bread basket, enjoy a small serving of a veggie-based soup, such as a tomato-rich minestrone soup, to take the edge off your hunger.
  3. Load up on veggies. Rather than ordering a high-fat, starchy side-dish with your meal, such as French fries or mashed potatoes, pile on the veggie sides, such as steamed vegetables, or a tomato-rich ratatouille.
  4. Super-sauce it. Skip the alfredo sauce and go easy on the cheese. Instead opt for a pasta dish or thin-crust pizza with lower-calorie, nutrient-rich tomato-based sauce. Remember, you can ruin the most healthful foods by deep-frying them, drenching them in olive oil or butter, or dipping them in cheese sauce.
  5. Skip those not-so-healthy “extras.” Some rich creamy sauces and fatty condiments can really make a huge difference in the nutrition profile of your meal. Many little additions such as sour cream, cheese, tartar sauce, or Hollandaise sauce can pack on the saturated fat and calories. If you really want something to enhance the flavor of your dish, think of lower-calorie, health-promoting options, such as salsa.
  6. Don’t be afraid to make special requests.  Restaurants are all about making their customers happy; if you have a good experience, you’ll tell your friends about it and even come back for more. So, don’t be afraid to ask for extra veggies and healthier add-ons.

Sharon Fruit PicSharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian™ is a writer and author of The Plant-Powered Diet. Over 850 of her articles have been published in national publications, including Prevention, Better Homes and Gardens and Today’s Dietitian. She is also the editor of the award-winning publication Environmental Nutrition and writes for her blog, The Plant-Powered Blog. Her specific expertise is in plant-based nutrition, including Mediterranean, vegetarian and vegan diets. Her second book, Plant-Powered For Life: Eat Your Way to Lasting Health with 52 Simple Steps and 125 Delicious Recipeswill be in stores July 2014.