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Dining Out and Nutrition: Making Healthier Choices with Restaurant Menus

Updated: May 30

Have you ever tried dining out and wondered if your meal is plotting against your waistline? I’m a culinary nerd with a nutrition obsession, so I’m here to help you enjoy your restaurant favorites without needing an elastic waistband. 😂 In this blog post we're gonna explore some restaurant menus and uncover the sneaky nutrition gremlins hiding in plain sight. 🤪


The Scary Truth About Restaurant Menus in North America



Although many restaurants are mindful of offering healthy options, the menu can often be a battlefield for our health:

  1. Calorie Bombs: Some dishes are like eating an entire day’s worth of food in one go. Thanks, but no thanks.

  2. Salt Mines: Do you ever feel like you’ve just licked a salt block after a meal? That’s because restaurant dishes can be sodium nightmares, spiking your blood pressure faster than you can say “pass the water” (Allan, 2023)

  3. Sugar Overload: Desserts and drinks that could give Willy Wonka a run for his money are lurking everywhere, just waiting to overload your system with added sugars (McCammon, 2019).

  4. Fat Factories: If it’s fried, it’s probably filled with unhealthy fats that can clog your arteries faster than you can spell “cholesterol” (Rosenbloom, 2021).


Four Ways Restaurants Can Up Their Nutrition Game 🥦


Restaurants, listen up! Here’s how you can make your menus healthier without scaring away customers:

  1. Portion Control: Offering smaller portion sizes or half-portion options to help manage caloric intake.

  2. Healthy Cooking Hacks: Ditch the deep fryer and embrace grilling, baking, and steaming. Your customers’ hearts will thank you.

  3. Ingredient Swaps: Whole grains, lean proteins, and a rainbow of veggies can make your dishes pop with color and nutrition (How to Make a Healthy Stir-Fry - Unlock Food, n.d.).

  4. Menu Honesty: Make sure you offer clear nutritional info so diners can make informed choices (New Poll Shows Pandemic’s Impact on Older Adult Eating Habits, n.d.).


Healthier Remake of a Restaurant Favorite


With all of these health concerns in mind, I decided to do an experiment and try to recreate a popular dish seen in many menus across America, and recreate it using healthy alternatives. If you're thinking "thanks, but I'll take the risk", I guarantee you the flavour is my number one priority. For this experiment, I picked a classic: Chicken Alfredo Pasta from my go-to Italian joint. Here’s how I gave it a healthy makeover.


East Side Mario's menu featuring a variety of Italian-American dishes, including a Roasted Garlic Fetuccine Alfredo With Chicken.


Recipe for Healthier Chicken Alfredo Pasta


Ingredients:


For the Whole-Grain Fettuccine:

  • Whole wheat flour: 200g

  • Eggs: 2 large

  • Olive oil: 1 tbsp

  • Salt: pinch

  • Water: as needed


For the Alfredo Sauce and Chicken:

  • Chicken breasts, boneless, skinless: 2

  • Skim milk: 250 ml

  • Low-sodium chicken broth: 250 ml

  • Olive oil: 30 ml (divided)

  • Garlic, minced: 3 cloves

  • Broccoli florets: 1 cup (150g)

  • Mushrooms, sliced: 1 cup (100g)

  • Whole-wheat flour: 15 ml

  • Grated Parmesan cheese: 60 ml (30g)

  • Salt: to taste

  • Pepper: to taste


Instructions:


1. Prepare the Pasta:

  • On a clean surface, mound the whole wheat flour and create a well in the center. Crack the eggs into the well, add the olive oil and a pinch of salt.

  • Using a fork, gently whisk the eggs and oil, gradually incorporating the flour from the edges of the well.



  • Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic, adding water if necessary. Wrap in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes.

  • Roll out the dough to desired thickness and cut into fettuccine strips. Boil in salted water until al dente, then drain and set aside.



2. Cook the Chicken and Vegetables:

  • In a large skillet, heat 15 ml olive oil and sauté garlic until fragrant.

  • Add chicken breasts and cook until no longer pink. Remove, slice, and set aside.

  • In the same skillet, add mushrooms and broccoli, sauté until tender, then set aside with the chicken.


3. Make the Alfredo Sauce:

  • In the same skillet, heat 15 ml olive oil. Whisk in whole-wheat flour to create a roux.

  • Gradually add skim milk and low-sodium chicken broth, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens.

  • Stir in grated Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper to taste.


4. Combine:

  • Add the cooked chicken and vegetables back into the skillet with the sauce.

  • Toss with the freshly made whole-grain fettuccine and serve immediately.



Nutritional Improvements and Marketing


Changes Made:

  • Whole-Grain Fettuccine: Swapping out regular pasta for whole-grain fettuccine not only boosts the fiber content but also helps in keeping your blood sugar levels steady (Different Oat Products Elicit Different Glycemic Responses | the Whole Grains Council, n.d.)

  • Skim Milk and Low-Sodium Chicken Broth: Using skim milk instead of heavy cream and opting for low-sodium chicken broth helps to significantly cut down on the fat and salt in the dish.

  • Olive Oil: Replacing butter with olive oil is a smart choice, as it provides healthier fats that are better for your heart.

  • Extra Veggies: Adding more vegetables like broccoli and mushrooms introduces a variety of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, making the meal even more nutritious.


Nutritional Improvements:

  • Lower Calories and Unhealthy Fats: The recipe makeover results in a dish with fewer calories and less unhealthy fat, making it a lighter option that still satisfies.

  • Reduced Sodium and Sugar: By carefully selecting ingredients, the dish contains less sodium and sugar, which is great for maintaining healthy blood pressure and reducing the risk of chronic diseases.

  • Increased Fiber and Essential Nutrients: The addition of whole grains and vegetables boosts the fiber content and provides essential nutrients that support overall health.


Marketing Potential:

  • Highlight Whole Grains, Lean Proteins, and Fresh Veggies: Emphasizing these ingredients can attract health-conscious diners who are looking for nutritious and delicious options.

  • Transparent Nutritional Info: Providing clear nutritional information builds trust and loyalty among customers, showing that the restaurant cares about their health and well-being.


Reflection

Would most people enjoy the healthier Chicken Alfredo Pasta? I think so! It’s got the creamy goodness we love, but with a nutritious twist. The whole-grain pasta and veggies make it a winner for health buffs without sacrificing taste. 🍝



References

  1. Allan, S. (2023, May 29). What are Processed and Ultra-Processed Foods? Canadian Digestive Health Foundation. https://cdhf.ca/en/what-are-processed-and-ultra-processed-foods/

  2. McCammon, E. (2019).Taming the blood sugar roller coaster - Diabetes Canada. DiabetesCanadaWebsite. https://www.diabetes.ca/managing-my-diabetes/stories/taming-the-blood-sugar-roller-coaster

  3. Rosenbloom, C. (2021, Feb 17, ). Balance comfort food and nutrition. Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. https://www.heartandstroke.ca/articles/balance-comfort-food-and-nutrition

  4. New poll shows pandemic’s impact on older adult eating habits. (n.d.). https://www.todaysdietitian.com/news/082420_news.shtml

  5. How to make a healthy Stir-Fry - Unlock food. (n.d.). https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Cooking-And-Food/Cooking-Methods/How-To-Make-A-Healthy-Stir-Fry.aspx

  6. Different oat products elicit different glycemic responses | The Whole Grains Council. (n.d.). https://wholegrainscouncil.org/health-studies/different-oat-products-elicit-different-glycemic-responses

  7. Unsplash. (n.d.). Beautiful free Images & Pictures | Unsplash. Unsplash. https://unsplash.com/

  8. Pexels. (n.d.) https://www.pexels.com/

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