Did You Know

  • dietitians with chef training have entered the restaurant scene, blending flavor and healthful eating into their menus?
  • many adult restaurantgoers like display cooking, where they can see their food prepared? . . . personal chefs are a growing trend for busy professional families; it's one way to match food preferences and plan for healthful eating, while offering a convenient and time-saving alternative to eating out? . . . the restaurant trend toward simple foods and flavors is putting basic, "comfort" foods back on the table— more stews, mashed potatoes, steamed or grilled vegetables, macaroni and cheese, and meat loaf? . . . chefs and farmers are collaborating to put more local and regional foods on many restaurant menus? . . . a cooking class can be a great way to dine out, sharpen your culinary skills—and help you learn more ways to prepare the flavors of good health? . . . kitchen "workshops" with personal chefs help customers assemble meals to freeze at home and eat later at the family table? Worth the time and money? That depends on you.

Learn Menu Language

Primavera, béarnaise, al dente. What do all these menu terms mean? Knowing menu terms and cooking basics makes ordering easier, especially if you need to control calories, fat, and other nutrients, or handle any food sensitivity such as a food allergy. And menu literacy also makes eating out more fun! For terms, check "MenuLanguage"in this chapter.

  • Generally, look for foods with simple preparation, such as steamed vegetables or broiled chicken, if you need to lower calories and fat. For instance, the term "al dente" describes how pasta and vegetables are cooked—only until firm when bitten, not soft or overdone. Literally translated, it means "to the tooth." Vegetables cooked "al dente" retain more nutrients.
  • Check menus for voluntary nutrient content claims. With government regulations, terms such as "lean," "low-fat," and "light" are defined consistently. Used on menus, these terms have roughly the same meaning as the same terms on food labels. For more on label terms, see "LabelLingo" in chapter 11.

Have It Your Way!

Do you have unique food and nutrition needs or preferences? Customize your order. You have the right to substitute. It's up to you to be assertive, ask menu questions, make special requests—and be realistic. Service-oriented restaurants are eager to please. They want you back!

Ask how the food is prepared or served, especially if the description isn't clear or the food is unfamiliar. Today's servers expect questions from more sophisticated diners. Find out about ingredients and any substitutions. You might ask:

  • How are the vegetables seasoned? Are they salted? Is butter or margarine added?
  • Is the fish grilled, broiled, breaded, or fried? Is it cooked with butter, margarine, or some other fat?
  • How is the sauce prepared?
  • Can I have the sauce (or salad dressing or whipped topping) on the side?
  • Is the soup clear (broth) or cream-based?
  • Can I substitute a baked potato, rice, vegetables, or a salad for the fries?
  • What is mole (in a Mexican dish)? Galangal (in a Thai dish)? Cassava (in a Caribbean dish)?
  • Does the dessert have nuts (if you're allergic to them)?
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