I’ve been making my list and checking it twice! I’ve even printed the nutrition charts for a couple of favorite restaurants. I’ve learned some very important general guidelines:
1. Never, never, never eat the appetizers. Anywhere. Anyhow. Anyway. Do not even read about them- they are so overflowing with calories and sodium that I suspect you might absorb some from the menu! Texas Cheese Fries at Chili’s- 1930 calories, 5530mg sodium, 135g fat. And don’t excuse yourself by saying you are sharing, unless you mean with five people! Firecracker Stuffed Jalepenos with Queso at On the Border- 1950 calories, 6540mg sodium, and 134g fat!
2. Do not stop at On the Border. Stay in your car and just keep driving. If you stop you will just be tempted to eat, and then I fear you will be sorry, very sorry. If you must stop, don’t touch the enchilada dinners. They range in calories is from 920-1590, 2000-4120mg for sodium, and 44-95g fat.
3. Beef items are often better choices than chicken. Many chicken items are either breaded, or soaked in salt, or both.
4. Rice pilaf usually has more calories and sodium than mashed potatoes.
5. Salad dressing is NOT our friend. High in calories. High in sodium.
6. Portions size is the killer. I don’t care what Mom said, don’t clean your plate.
7. Pizza is not bad…it’s the pepperoni, and the cheese.
8. Don’t add insult by drinking more calories. Drink water or unsweetened tea.
9. Vegetables can be sneaky. Many contain more sodium than the entrée!
10. Buffet=Bad, Bad, Bad. Too many variables in cooking. Too many choices. Too many opportunities to overeat. Too much frying.
So… now for some details and a game plan. (I apologize now if I’ve made any errors in numbers. I’m dizzy from all the numbers!)
The first thing I noticed in reading the fine print of nutrition guides is that “low calorie” and “high sodium” often goes together. So I was forced to try to balance the two. Sometimes I think it is actually better to opt for higher calories and lower sodium, especially if the calories aren’t just fat grams. Second, serving sizes are misleading. I can’t even figure out the P.F. Chang nutrition chart, so if you eat there often perhaps you can explain how the meals are served. Most of the items listed on the chart are 2-4 servings, but the chart information seems to be for a single serving. The Vegetarian Bowl says 235 calories, 575mg sodium, and 1g fat, but the serving size says 2. Someone check that for me, please!
Of course I was most interested in my favorite restaurants: Chili’s, Burger King, and Arby’s. Also checked Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Denny’s, Olive Garden, Panda Express, and On the Border. Each has at least one menu item that wouldn’t leave you guilt-ridden. But there were some surprises.
The Market Fresh sandwiches at Arby’s actually have as much sodium, and most have as many calories, as the beef sandwiches. The Market Fresh Chicken Roast has 360 calories, 1030mg sodium and 10g fat. The standard roast beef fare is 350-650 calories, 900-2200mg sodium. The chicken salad is 260 calories, 720mg sodium, and 14g fat. So it seems that most choices are about equal. Stay away from the cheese and go easy on the sauce.
I was pleased to see that my usual choice, Margarita Grilled Chicken, was one of the better offerings at Chili’s. It has 260 calories, 370mg sodium, and 2g fat. That is for the chicken however! The veggies and rice that are served with it also have their own sodium, so I decided I should finish off the veggies and eat half the rice. The salad is only a good choice if you skip the dressing.
At Taco Bell I would be better off to eat a bean burrito and a chicken soft taco than the Chicken Ranch Taco Salad. The burrito has 340 calories, 1290mg sodium, and 8g fat. The taco has 190 calories, 660mg sodium, and 6g fat. The taco salad packs 910 calories, 1660mg sodium, and 10g fat. Of course the general advice is don’t eat the shell. I’m not sure how that would compute.
At Olive Garden I will order the herb grilled salmon or the linguine alla marinara. The salmon has 510 calories, 760mg sodium, and 26g fat. The pasta has 430 calories, 900mg sodium, and 6g fat. And they are some of the best items to choose! Better not eat there often. J Watch their salad dressing- the difference between salad without it and with it is 550mg sodium vs. 1930. That’s quite a difference!
Craving pizza? I’ll be okay with one slice of Pizza Hut’s “Fit and Delicious” Pizza. Depending on toppings, the calories range from 150-180 per slice. Sodium is 400-720mg per slice. Fat is 4-4.5g per slice.
At Denny’s I’ll still eat the senior grilled chicken. At 140 calories, 590mg sodium, and 2g fat it is the lesser of many evils. However, the sides are dangerous. Coleslaw adds 260 calories and 520mg sodium. Veggies aren’t much better. Mashed potatoes are better than the pilaf.
Burger King wasn’t as much of a disappointment as I feared. After all, it is a fast food burger joint. They do offer unsalted fries. I can add or subtract anything from my burger. The surprise was the grilled chicken burger. It has 520 calories, 1410mg sodium, and 19g of fat, while the cheeseburger has 310 calories, 740mg sodium, and 15g fat.
I guess if On the Border is the only place in town I can eat the chicken enchilada with cream sauce. At 210 calories and 490mg of sodium it really isn’t too bad. However, I need to eat half the rice and skip the beans. The beans add 230 calories and 730mg of sodium. That’s a lot of salt for beans!
Panda Express seems to have the best lunch- steamed rice and mixed veggies. The rice has 420 calories and no sodium. The mixed veggies have 70 calories and 530mg of sodium. Black pepper chicken and mixed veggies entrée is 270 calories, 1270mg sodium, and 12g fat.
So…a few items to enjoy on the road. I plan to read menus more carefully and cut my portions by not cleaning my plate. I urge you to do the same. I’ll still be getting too much sodium, but I’ll try not to worry.