Thursday, 23 May 2013

You're out for dinner and......

I LOVE to travel. If I wasn’t going to be an N.D., I’d want to be a travel writer or have my own travel TV series. I’ve been very lucky to travel to all ends of the world (Ecuador, Kenya, Nepal, Australia) and always looking for my next adventure.

Having said that I HATE the process of travelling itself. The line-ups at security, long flights with crying babies, jetlag, time zones and I always seem to be that ‘random’ who gets subject to the pat down or full body scan. On the plus side, travelling to new countries means experiencing new foods, cultures and culinary cuisines. On the down side, it can also mean fast food or restaurant meals that cause some serious tummy troubles, and usually a gluttony of sodium, sugar, scary additives and calorie overload.

While I could write this post for several different restaurant types (Mexican, Japanese, Indian, Korean etc.) I’m going to focus on typical restaurant meals you could find at chain restaurants like East Side Mario’s, Kelsey’s or Jack Astor’s to name a few. If you want information on how to chose healthy at specific restaurants or cuisines, send me a message and I can help you you out!

Before we begin, below is a picture of the bistro shrimp pasta entrĂ©e from the Cheesecake Factory. I want you to guess how many calories, grams of saturated fat and milligrams of sodium it contains. Scroll down to the bottom of the post to see the actual numbers and understand why it’s easy to overeat at restaurants. With a few simple suggestions and a couple substitutions, this doesn’t have to be the case.

1. Appetizers may seem like a quick snack, but these can be one of the worst things to order at chain restaurants. Avoid anything breaded, fried, crispy, or that comes with a creamy dipping sauce. Same goes for soups; a clear vegetable based soup is a better choice than a cream based. If you think anything with the word ‘salad’ is healthy, think again. Check out my previous post about salads for some tips.

2. Don’t be shy about making changes to the menu. Ask for double veggies instead white rice, order plain steamed veggies with marinara sauce instead of pasta, get a salad with dressing on the side or see if the item can be prepared without any added salt. For all your Oakville folks, one of my favorite restaurants is Stoney’s. Many times I have ordered a sandwich served on a field of greens instead of bread and never had an issue with this request.

3. When ordering entrees, look for the words grilled, baked, steamed, broiled, poached, roasted, or blackened. These are some of the healthiest ways to prepare meats or seafood items. Stay clear of things like breaded, buttered, fried, creamed, scalloped or au gratin.

4. Watch the add-ons. Sweet potatoes and seasonal vegetables themselves are very healthy, but if loaded with sour cream, butter, bacon, cream sauces, mayo based dips or coated in cheap cooking oil, you are quickly adding calories without any added nutrition.

5. Wait at least 20 minutes after eating your meal before thinking about ordering dessert. Your stomach needs time to signal to your brain that you’re full. If you must order dessert, split one item between two or more people.  Don’t be fooled by buzz words like ‘vegan’, ‘gluten-free’ or ‘organic’. A vegan, gluten-free chocolate cake can still be chocked full of empty calories from sugar and high-carb gluten-free flour blends.

6. Before heading to dinner, check online and see if there is a menu or nutritional information available. Most chain restaurants these days will post both nutritional and allergen information online for all menu items. This is very handy in helping choose a healthier option, but also great for people who have allergies and can avoid having to be 'that person' who grills the server on how the food is prepared and what potential allergens are in each dish. (I've been's not fun...especially in foreign countries)

Thirsty? Plain old water or soda water with lemon is your best bet. If you feel like hitting the bottle, a glass of red wine is always a good place to start 

Answer: that past dish contains 3,120 calories, 89 grams of saturated fat and 1,090 milligrams of sodium, way over the amount you should eat in an ENTIRE day!!!!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

My Love Affair with Costco

Time and time again I hear people say “I want to eat healthy, but its too expensive". I completely agree that eating healthy sometimes isn't feasible on a budget, particularly if you are shopping at specialty health food stores. No I don’t want to or can afford to spend $4 on a cucumber at Whole Foods, but there are ways to eat healthy without breaking the bank.

Especially as a student, it's easy to let your health take the back burner when exams, school stress and other commitments begin to pile up. Let’s be honest though, it’s a lot easier to spend $80 at the bar (pre-drink, taxi, tequila shots, Smoke’s poutine, drunk text messages, new lipstick, dress from Aritzia etc.) than it is to buy $80 worth of quality fresh produce at the grocery store.

In comes Costco. How I love going here with my mom and her membership card. Yes Costco sells a TON of junk food, or health food in ‘disguise’ (think protein bars filled with HFCS and soy-protein isolate, that's a whole other blog...), however they also have done an amazing job stocking their shelves with healthy, organic food, full of real ingredients, and a good selection of fresh fruits, veggies, frozen foods and meat.   These are my go-to items I buy at Costco that will have you tons of money compared to if you buy them as single products at Loblaws.

Taste of Nature Bars
Unsweetened Almond Milk
Fresh fruits and veggies & frozen stir-fry mixes and berries
Eggs and/or egg whites
Boneless skinless chicken breasts, beef/pork tenderloin and boneless lamb
Frozen shrimp, turkey burgers and salmon burgers & canned wild salmon 

Here are some new items I found on the shelves that made great additions to my kitchen

 Starting from the top left, yes snack sized packs of almonds aren't exactly eco-friendly, but they came in handy when I was in Boston for a week long conference. You can stuff one or two 100-calorie packs in your purse and that way you always have a healthy snack on hand
Hemp hearts and flaxseeds are both great sources of healthy fats, I mix them with buckwheat grouts and chia seeds to make my own homemade version of holy crap cereal. If you're allergic to eggs, you can also use 'flax eggs' as a substitute in baking.
This is the biggest pack of sun-dried tomatoes I have ever seen and will probably take me an entire year to get through. Sun-dried tomatoes make a tasty addition to homemade hummus, salads, appetizers and sauces.
Costco is great for bulk nuts. I made homemade Nutella using these hazelnuts, and I also saw a giant bag of sliced, blanched almonds that would be great for making homemade almond flour. Medjool dates make a tasty, nutritious alternative to sugar when baking. They are also great stuffed with goat cheese as a party appetizer. Try this recipe from Elana's Pantry to see how you can incorporate dates into your baking, and dates are also fantastic for making healthy desserts and homemade Larabars. 

Stayed tuned for my next post. Although my week in Boston for the EB conference was fabulous, I was tired of eating out for all my meals and couldn't wait to get home and be back in my kitchen. While the seafood was delicious, restaurant meals and portion sizes tend to be heavy, salty and not always the healthiest. Have you ever had trouble deciphering the menu when looking for something lighter to eat? I'll have some easy solutions to help you out next week!