Decoding a menu

October 02, 1999|By MEG H. PARTINGTONStaff Writer

Watch words

Here are a few words the health-conscious should watch for on a restaurant menu:

Words to be wary of:

* Buttery

* Pan-fried

* Butter-broiled

* Creamed

* Scalloped

* Au gratin


'Good' words:

* Broiled

* Roasted

* Grilled

* Steamed

Source: Kathy Sare, chief clinical dietitian at Chambersburg Hospital in Chambersburg, Pa.Whether medical problems or displeasure with the bathroom scale's recent reading have you watching every morsel, there's no need to avoid dining out.

Eating healthfully while at restaurants is possible. You just need to know what to look for on a menu and what to avoid.

[cont. from lifestyle]

"It's easy to do," says Kimber White, chef and co-owner of Historic Boomtown Restaurant in Martinsburg, W.Va. He should know.

He lost 180 pounds and has kept that weight off for seven years.

"My weight loss was all through eating out," White says. "Eating healthy is not a diet, it's a way of life."

White became a vegetarian in the '80s. The Boomtown's menu reflects his focus on healthy eating, though it's not all meatless.

Poultry dishes such as Martinsburg Raspberry Glazed Chicken are available, along with meats, salads, pastas and desserts.

It's all in the preparation

With so many cooking terms on menus, it's hard to know exactly what you're getting. But don't fret, those words are definable.

For instance, the "blackened" in Old South Mountain Inn's Blackened Tuna with Saffron Lobster Sauce simply means that Cajun spices are applied to the tuna before it is sauted in clarified butter, says Russell Schwartz, owner of the Boonsboro restaurant.

And what exactly is clarified butter? It's different from the type found in most homes because the whey has been removed, which makes the butter burn less easily, Schwartz says.

Health-conscious diners should avoid fried foods, says Tammy Thornton, a registered and licensed dietitian at Washington County Health Department.

"Baked or broiled is always better," Thornton says, but be sure butter isn't ladled onto that baked or broiled meat or fish before it's brought to your table.

Potatoes can be a healthful side dish, depending on how they're prepared. Baked varieties are more healthful than mashed, which often are made with cream or butter, or au gratin, which are enhanced with cheese, Thornton says.

What about rice?

Pilaf isn't always a bad option. If it's sauted in chicken broth, you'll be taking in more sodium but less fat than if it was made with butter, Thornton says. Plain white rice, while not as tasty, is a wise choice, she says.

There are countless sauces on menus that add pizzazz to plain old pastas and other entrees.

If you're trying to cut back on fat, marinara and other red sauces are a safer bet than cream sauces such as alfredo, Thornton says.

Ask, ask, ask

Restaurant patrons have every right to know how foods are prepared and request certain things, like broiling, baking or grilling without fat, Thornton says.

While stir-fried vegetables and meats may seem like a healthful meal option, be aware that if a lot of oil is used in preparation, you may be consuming as much fat as if you ordered it deep-fried, she says.

"Don't be afraid to ask," White says.

Those who eat at finer dining establishments likely will find that the staff is trained to answer patrons' questions about food preparation, and if they aren't sure of the answers, they will ask the chef, White says.

"Just because it says 'vegetarian' doesn't mean it's vegetarian," White says. For instance, a soup billed on a menu as vegetarian may be made with a meat, chicken or fish base, he says. Again, if you're concerned, ask.

Defining terms | Making the right choices

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