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15 Surprisingly Healthy Restaurant Dishes

Just because you're trying to eat healthier this year, doesn't mean you can never go out to eat with your friends or family. Instead of getting frustrated and throwing caution to the wind, just do a little research ahead of time to identify menu options that fit in with your nutrition goals.
We've scoured popular restaurant menus to give you a head start with 15 healthy dishes that will fit into most eating plans. And don't worry, even if you do make a less-than-ideal choice at one meal, that doesn't mean you have to give up on healthy eating. Just go right back to your plan at the very next meal and don't waste time feeling guilty!
Posted 1/1/2014  6:00:00 AM By: Tanya Jolliffe : 7 comments   15,251 views
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The 15 Worst Foods of the Year

Each year many people make food-related New Year's resolutions or goals. Figuring out how to make dining out fit in with those goals can be a big challenge. Over the years, we've highlighted many of the healthier options in our Diet Friendly Dining series. Last year we were encouraged by the increased number of nutrition conscious restaurant options that were available.

This year, we've seen all sorts of new foods hit the market. Some, like the recently invented Cronut, throw nutrition caution to the wind. Others, like Satisfries, are an attempt to create tasty lower-calorie favorites. We scoured restaurant menus to find the biggest nutrition disasters so you'll know what to avoid when eating out in the new year.  
Posted 12/27/2013  6:00:00 AM By: Tanya Jolliffe : 31 comments   80,929 views
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$20 Food Showdown: Fast Food vs. Healthy Food

Budget constraints prevent many people from eating right.

"I can't afford to buy healthy food."
"Fruits and vegetables are too expensive."
"Grocery store prices are astronomical."
"It's cheaper to eat fast food."

We hear these "excuses" every day--and they're good ones. But we don't give up that easily and believe any excuse can be overcome. Today we're setting out to prove that healthy eating is possible on any budget.

We compared the cost of unhealthy foods from the drive-thru, freezer section and snack foods aisle to the cost of healthy foods. By making even one of these swaps, you can make room in your grocery budget for a few new healthy foods.

The photos below aim to show the diversity in healthy foods available. Prices may vary in your area (some items were on sale when we shopped), but we think you'll be shocked at how far you can stretch a buck at the supermarket when you buy healthy foods!
Posted 4/18/2013  6:00:00 AM By: Stepfanie Romine : 695 comments   1,645,145 views
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20 Better than Takeout Recipes

Takeout is tasty and convenient, but comes with high fat, sodium, and calories. Afterward, you may experience bloating or a tummy ache and have little idea what ingredients were used in the dish you purchased. Instead of surrendering control to your local drive-in, diner, or dive, use these SparkRecipes to cook your favorite take out dishes in the comfort of your own kitchen. By doing the cooking yourself, you can use savory spices, health-smart ingredients, and improved cooking methods like baking and steaming that bring out the natural flavors in food. With the money you save, don’t forget to give yourself a little tip: you deserve a reward for a job well done!
Chicken Satay with Vegetables (Chef Meg's Makeover)

Crispy Baked Egg Rolls

Chef Meg's Spring Rolls
Pot Stickers (steamed wontons)

Baked Crab Rangoon
Posted 4/4/2013  6:00:00 PM By: Samantha Donohue : 32 comments   360,624 views
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The 11 Worst Foods of the Year

Fast food and chain restaurants have evolved significantly over the last few years. Burgers, fries and sodas are still the status quo for many diners, but those who seek healthier foods have plenty of options, from fruit and yogurt parfaits and baked potatoes, to apples cut like fries and grilled chicken. Trans fats have been reduced and eliminated; lowfat milk, fresh fruits and vegetables grace the menus at even the most ubiquitous roadside eateries; and more companies are disclosing nutritional information.

Despite those changes, fast foods menus remain dichotomous: Healthy choices reside next to triple-stacked burgers and extra large fries.

We've rounded up 11 of the worst foods we've seen this year.

Stay far, far away from the foods listed below, and instead select from the plentiful healthy choices at each of the restaurants included in this article.

Posted 1/5/2013  10:00:00 PM By: Stepfanie Romine : 729 comments   43,778 views
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Poll: Would You Pay the Same Price for Half the Food at Restaurants?

McDonald’s has begun posting calorie information on restaurant menu boards and highlighting items under 400-calories to help people make healthier choices when eating away from home. Other restaurants are choosing to wait for the FDA to set final guidelines before posting calorie information as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. 
With such a large number of high calorie choices available in restaurants, will any of this really make a difference? If you believe the information produced by a leading market research company that tracks consumer foodservice choices, calorie information availability on menu boards will likely not influence order selection on a long-term basis.
There is now a new way for diners to enjoy food in a correct portion size and limit calories while also helping others. But would you be willing to receive a smaller portion while paying the same price?
Posted 10/15/2012  10:00:00 AM By: Tanya Jolliffe : 74 comments   12,953 views
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Poll: Should Fine Dining Go Healthy?

Have you ever noticed that many top chefs also struggle with their weight? If you read the news or follow food blogs, it would be hard to miss the controversy over the popular TV chef Paula Dean and her battle with diabetes. These stories have kicked off interesting water cooler debates about the tug of war between fine cuisine and our health. The issue has also taken a tragic turn with the deaths of Dom Deloise and Jennifer Patterson of “Two Fat Ladies,” among others. At the same time, there is a new generation of chefs tackling this issue with fresh vigor, including some that are already super famous, like Jamie Oliver, and some that are still up-and-coming, but making an impact in their location communities. 
Posted 8/29/2012  6:00:00 PM By: Samantha Donohue : 55 comments   10,979 views
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Food Showdown: Cinco de Mayo Madness

Mexican dishes often combine both healthy and not-so-healthy ingredients.  Although they include a lot of fresh produce (lettuce, tomatoes, and corn) and complex carbohydrates like beans and rice, the meals are also sometimes cooked in lard and topped with lots of melty cheese.  Taco salads, for example, are usually chock-full of veggies, but they can also be piled high with cheese, meat, and deep-fried chips.  And chicken fajitas are made up of mostly healthy lean protein and veggies, but are often stir-fried and wrapped in an empty calorie tortilla. For a healthier Cinco de Mayo feast, should you dig into a taco salad or a plate of chicken fajitas?
Posted 5/5/2012  10:00:00 AM By: Nicole Nichols : 24 comments   23,609 views
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Top Restaurant Trends to Watch in 2012

Here are some interesting statistics regarding restaurants –
  • Sixty-two percent of consumers have been cutting back on visits to casual-dining restaurants.

  • Forty seven percent of consumers want healthy restaurant options while just twenty-three percent select healthy food when dining away from home.

  • Fifty-two percent of consumers suggest that different and unique flavors influence their restaurant visits.
Technomic is a consulting and research firm that focuses on the food industry by providing proprietary studies and research based guidance. Their research has found many interesting consumer trends. Here are some of the top restaurant trends they want us to watch in 2012.  
Posted 1/2/2012  10:00:00 AM By: Tanya Jolliffe : 14 comments   8,389 views
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The 10 Healthiest Menu Items of 2011

We have seen many restaurants update their menus this year to provide patrons with healthier options. The new Kids Live Well campaign provides families with healthier choices when eating away from home to help kids maintain a healthy weight. While some reports suggest the new healthy options aren't popular, many restaurant chains aren't giving up and are striving to be on board with the First Lady's anti-obesity campaign.
Throughout 2011, we have highlighted some of the healthier fast food and casual dining options in our Food on the Run and Diet Friendly Dining reviews. Here are 10 of the healthiest menu options we've seen this year:
Posted 12/8/2011  2:00:00 PM By: Tanya Jolliffe : 32 comments   79,195 views
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Diet Friendly Dining T.G.I. Friday's

Today in our ongoing Diet Friendly Dining series, we look at newly updated T.G.I. Friday's. Previously, Friday's didn't provide complete nutrition information for their menu items. Beginning at the end of September, nutrition information became readily available on their website.
We continue to recommend menu selections for a complete meal contain around 500 calories or less with 15-20 grams of fat or less. For many people, this is about one third of their daily calorie allowance. To meet this goal at T.G.I. Friday's it will require smart selections when ordering. We hope these tips will help.
Posted 10/24/2011  10:00:00 AM By: Tanya Jolliffe : 87 comments   91,540 views
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Are Healthier Kids Menus Coming to Your Favorite Restaurant?

It is difficult to listen to the news, read a newspaper, or review online blogs these days without hearing about the childhood obesity epidemic.  With a childhood obesity rate that has more than tripled in the past 30 years, the problem certainly is important to address. Last year the First Lady launched her Let's Move Campaign but more information and tools are necessary to teach kids healthy habits.
Last week there were two breaking headlines related to this topic. The first headline surrounding a renowned child obesity expert had Twitter feeds and news message boards lit up. A commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that states should intervene in life-threatening childhood obesity cases. The authors acknowledge many factors affect energy balance. They also site many aspects of modern society promote unhealthy lifestyles that contribute to childhood obesity issues. Their controversial opinion loosely links inadequate parental supervision and role modeling of healthy habits as a form of child abuse that contribute to issues of severe obesity in children. They suggest that some severely obese children in this situation would be better off in foster care than with their parents. The second health related topic leader of the week related to restaurants offering healthier food for kids
Some call the Kids Live Well campaign a restaurant marketing ploy while others consider it a positive response to a national crisis. Regardless of how you label it, the collaboration between the National Restaurant Association and the team of registered dietitians at Healthy Dining will help families make healthier choices when eating away from home. Helping families make healthier choices will hopefully decrease the need to even think about having to remove children from families for health reasons. Here is a closer look at what the new program includes.
Posted 7/18/2011  10:00:00 AM By: Tanya Jolliffe : 18 comments   9,161 views
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Has the Restaurant Industry Gone Too Far?

This past Wednesday In-N-Out Burgers, a California based fast food chain, expanded its operation in the Dallas/Fort Worth market, one already saturated with restaurants galore.

When In-N-Out Burgers opened their doors in Allen and Frisco last week, it was reported that the line to get into the restaurants wrapped around the buildings and onto the adjacent roads leaving patrons to wait as long as three hours to get a burger. I understand that this more of an isolated situation, but three hours in line for a burger? Where do you draw the line?

And if you were looking for a burger with a little more substance, just head on down to the West End in Dallas where you can imbibe in a burger that boasts a whooping 8,000 calories, equivalent to four days worth of calories for me and that is if I expend 3000 calories that week via exercise. However, I will add that the burger is served by a waitress donned in white nurse's uniform, complete with cap. The name of the restaurant--The Heart Attack Grill. And if the size of the burger doesn't entice you to walk through the doors, as a bonus those patrons who weigh over 350 pounds get to eat for free.

Posted 5/17/2011  2:00:43 PM By: Nancy Howard : 161 comments   17,237 views
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Diet Friendly Dining: Red Lobster

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines encourage Americans to include more seafood.

Seafood is a general term referring to both finfish as well as shellfish. The average intake of seafood in the United States is around three and a half ounces per week. Evidence suggests increasing consumption to about eight ounces per week from a variety of seafood will provide a daily average of 250 mg of the healthy fats EPA and DHA. Consumption at this level has been associated with decreased cardiac deaths and the prevention of heart disease.

I tend to select seafood when I am eating away from home. As part of our ongoing Diet Friendly Dining series, let's look at the healthier seafood options at Red Lobster.

Posted 2/28/2011  11:00:00 AM By: Tanya Jolliffe : 39 comments   22,120 views
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Separating Hype from Reality on Menus

When you're on the run or out with friends, it's not always possible to plan ahead and do your research before heading to a restaurant. (If you can plan ahead, Tanya's Food on the Run series is a fantastic resource.) Once there, your senses are often assaulted by glossy photos on menus and table tents, tantalizing smells, and fast-paced sales pitches from servers. Even your fellow diners get in on the act, urging you to try the newest, most popular menu item. "Crispy breaded macaroni and cheese bites wrapped in bacon and served with our five-queso, dragon fire dipping sauce." Sounds good when everyone else is ordering it, right?

While the trend at some hip restaurants is simplicity (Mac-n-cheese: penne + pancetta + artisan Gouda), most restaurants add long descriptions to entice diners. "Fluffy omelets," "real cheese," and "fresh lettuce" become selling points.

But think about it: Omelets are fluffy by nature. Shouldn't all cheese be real? And would someone really serve not-fresh lettuce? (Perhaps, but most customers would send it back.) If you're telling me about a specific type of food--Hass avocados, which have a richer flavor than other varieties; Vidalia onions, known for their sweetness; or Niman Ranch pork, a high quality brand--then please add the descriptors. But if restaurants are stating the obvious, overselling their dishes, or trying to gloss over unhealthy ingredients, we as consumers should be able to read beyond that and make educated decisions.

My number one piece of advice for translating menus: If you would never be willing to eat the opposite of a menu description (e.g. stale bread, soggy lettuce, tough chicken), then the modifier is just hype!

When you're learning to maneuver the thick menus of restaurants and seek out healthier items, it's not always easy. I've scoured menus for descriptions that are full of hollow marketing terms. Let's separate hype from reality. Below, I'll translate these menu descriptions. Do any of these adjectives and descriptions actually mean food is better for us? Or--health aspects aside--does it really make a difference in the final taste? Does it justify an added cost? No restaurants will be named in the list below.
Posted 8/25/2010  11:10:12 AM By: Stepfanie Romine : 34 comments   15,676 views
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