The Calorie Wallet: Appetizers
Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD
An appetizer is supposed to be a small bite; a little portion of food at the start of a meal, designed to get your digestive juices flowing, yet leaves enough room for you to enjoy the main course. All too often, though, restaurants serve enormous appetizer portions, with enough calories to nearly empty your calorie wallet before the entrée even arrives.
Done right, though, an appetizer can be a good strategy for controlling how much you eat at your meal. If you choose something that’s filling but low in calories, it can really help you to curb how much you eat when the main course comes.
Let’s take a look at some typical restaurant appetizers, and how much calorie cash they’ll cost you.
- Tortilla chips and salsa aren’t exactly a stand-alone appetizer, but since so many restaurants serve them up, it’s worth noting that a typical basket of chips has about 1,000 calories.
- Fried chicken wings are popular, and as if they’re not fatty enough, they’re usually served with creamy bleu cheese dressing to dip them in. An order from one popular restaurant chain in the U.S. will cost you a whopping 1,500 calories. You’d need to walk for seven hours to burn that off.
- Artichoke and spinach dip may sound like it offers up some veggies, but it’s got a lot more mayonnaise, sour cream and cheese than anything else. That would explain why a typical order has about 1,600 calories – about 1,000 of them from fat alone.
- Anything fried is usually a bad idea, because the calories just add up too quickly. A single egg roll costs about 200 calories, and a serving of fried zucchini is nearly twice that.
Some better choices?
- You can never go wrong with a lightly-dressed green salad. Ask for vinaigrette dressing on the side so you can control how much you use. For only 150 calories, you could eat three cups of mixed greens topped with a tablespoon of dressing.
- A broth-based soup is also a good choice – watery foods like salads and soups are filling, but the calories are generally really low. A cup of mixed vegetable or tomato soup will cost you only about 100 calories. And since it’s hot, you’ll eat more slowly – giving your stomach time to tell your brain that you’re starting to fill up.
- Shrimp cocktail is a good choice, too. Shrimp’s got plenty of protein to help to fill you up, and spicy cocktail sauce is low in fat and calories. A typical order of eight large shrimp and a couple of tablespoons of sauce will only set you back about 125 calories.