Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, which means plenty of people are going to be heading out to their favorite eateries for a meal. It’s a good excuse to order something indulgent and extravagant, but can you order good food from the menu that is also good for your heart? The answer is yes! There are plenty of ways to make heart-healthy menu choices no matter what type of restaurant you end up at. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Navigating a Menu by Cuisine
It’s easy to get carried away with all of the delicious options on the menu. The important thing to remember is to look for options that are low in saturated and trans fats; meals high in these can raise your blood cholesterol levels. Here are a few plans for tackling some of the more popular restaurant types.
At an Italian Restaurant:
Don’t worry, you can have the pasta! If possible, try for a whole-grain option when available. And while Alfredo and other cream-based sauces are delicious, aim for a Marsala or marinara sauce instead. Thinking of ordering an appetizer? Skip the fried stuff and try soup or a vegetable dish!
At a Steakhouse:
Who doesn’t love a good steak? You can have your steak and eat it too, but keep portion size in mind; 3-6oz. of a nice lean cut of meat should do just fine. Make healthy choices for your side dishes as well – load up on steamed veggies, or if you’d like a starch, opt for a baked potato or rice instead of anything fried. Additionally, many steakhouses are pretty good at preparing seafood as well, so if you’re not feeling like turf, try the surf!
At a French Restaurant:
Tie your napkin ’round your neck cherie and gather your willpower as it might be hard to pass up every lovely dish drowning in butter, but it’s entirely possible! The key here is bypassing richer entrees, desserts and sauces and thinking light. Ask if you can get your sauce on the side so you can add it sparingly yourself. Avoid fried foods and look for sauteed options. Eyeing that dessert menu? Chocolate fat-free pudding is just as chocolatey as a rich chocolate mousse!
At a Japanese Restaurant:
I’m a sucker for any dinner date that involves sushi, but it’s easy to get carried away here as well. If you can’t quite stomach raw fish, it’s still possible to avoid ordering all of your sushi rolls dipped in tempura batter and fried. Look for options that include fish that has been steamed or grilled, or veggie-filled rolls. If you’re into more hibachi-style dishes with chicken and steak options, ask for any sauces to be served on the side.
At a Breakfast place:
Maybe you’ve opted to avoid the evening crowds and hit up a breakfast cafe instead. Breakfast menus tend to be loaded with items high in saturated fats like bacon and sausage which are really hard to say no to, but an alternative like lean ham, Canadian bacon, or turkey bacon might work to soothe those cravings. Choose whole-grain or whole-wheat for carbs like pancakes, waffles, and toast, and sides of fresh fruit instead of breakfast potatoes.
Other Dining Out Hacks
There are additional ways to help make your meal selection a little more heart-friendly. For instance, if it’s not already stated on the menu, you can try asking the server if the kitchen can prepare a dish a different way (if you don’t want to do this in person, maybe peruse the menu ahead of time and call ahead to ask). Some menus include lighter versions of a dish, so look at those, too. Also, consider sharing your entree with your dinner companion, or making a point of saving half of your meal for lunch or dinner the next day. Balance is also important to think about. If you definitely want to order an indulgent dessert, go lighter on the courses that precede it.
If all else fails, a night-in is sometimes more fun than a night-out; find a heart-healthy recipe on the internet and give it a whirl. You may not be an expert chef, but you might spend a little less and you can wear pajamas to the dinner table.