Secrets to Reading a Menu
Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD
When I was little, our family, like most families at the time, went out to eat only on special occasions. But times sure have changed. Today, most of us eat out on average four to five times a week. If you eat out frequently, what you choose to eat can have a big impact on your health and your calorie intake. Mouth-watering menu descriptions might steer you off the healthy track, and many times without you realizing it. High-fat foods and large portions are two of the biggest restaurant hazards, so here are some tips to help you translate the secret language of restaurant menus:
- Restaurants like to serve large portions because diners like value. But remember, they are the ones determining the portion, and you're likely to eat whatever is put in front of you. Some clues that your meal might be large? Watch for words like "jumbo," "grande," "super," "double," "supreme," "king-size," "feast" and "combo" – the are all just gentler ways of saying "huge."
- On the other hand, it's also not always obvious which portions are smaller, but some key words to look for are "petite," "lunch portion," "appetizer-size" or even "kiddie."
- Learn some of the code words for high-fat foods, too. "Fried" is pretty obvious, but you might want to also steer clear of foods that are "crispy," "creamy," "battered," "breaded" and "golden brown," all of which are likely to be loaded with grease.
- Even if foods aren't fried, there's still no shortage of fatty items on the menu. So beware of foods that are "smothered" or "topped with" cream sauce, gravy, cheese, dressing, nuts, sauce, "special sauce," sour cream or bacon.
- When looking for lower-fat options, search for foods that are "steamed," "broiled," "baked," "roasted," "grilled" or "poached," because they're all cooking methods that use a minimum of fat.
- When in doubt about any menu description, your server should be able to guide you in the right direction. Not all sauces are high-fat, like wine or tomato sauces. And some foods that are described as "creamy" – like pureed vegetable soups – have a wonderful creamy texture, but hardly a drop of fat.