Yes, it’s possible to escape without ordering a gut-bomb. Just follow these rules and avoid these common mistakes.
So apparently National Steakhouse Month is a thing. And in order to celebrate, we’re highlighting some of the better-for-you menu items.
We’ve done the work for you with the picks below. But let’s face it—who wants to be constrained to the same choices time in, time out? That’s why we’ve come up with some tips and rules to follow so you can broaden your choices when you feel the urge to try something new on the menu.
Here are a few things to think about when choosing a steakhouse entrée, says Cynthia Sass, R.D., a performance nutritionist based in Los Angeles and New York City.
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Consider Your Options
If you’re heading to a steakhouse, chances are pretty good that you may have steak in mind. And that’s fine: You can certainly choose red meat as your entrée. Just don’t go right for the rib-eye, which boasts the highest fat and saturated fat content.
Instead, look for a lean cut, which tends to be lower in fat and calories. According to the USDA, a 3.5-ounce serving of lean cut beef contains less than 10 grams fat, 4.5 saturated fat, and 95 mg cholesterol. Any of these cuts will do the trick: eye of round roast and steak, sirloin tip side steak, top round roast and steak, bottom round roast and steak, and top sirloin steak.
And if available, choose the grass-fed variety—it’s lower in saturated fat and higher in vitamin E and omega-3s—and stick with a smaller portion.
“If your steak is more than six ounces, ask for a to-go container and take home the rest,” Sass says. “You avoid overeating and you get two meals for the price of one.” (For the record, the recommended serving of beef is three ounces—that’s the size of a small fist.)
Plus, just because you are dining at a steakhouse, it doesn’t mean you have to have red meat if you’re not feeling it. Sass points out that most places offer fish and even vegetarian items. Fish is an excellent source of quality, lean protein, and good-for-your brain omega-3 fatty acids. And vegetarian options tend to be lower in saturated fat, so long as you don’t go for the four-cheese mac and cheese or slather sour cream on your veggie fajita.
Sass suggests thinking outside the entrée box, too.
“You can also opt for apps and sides in place of an entrée,” she says. “This is a great way to curb portions and save money.”
Cobble together a meal of vegetarian chili and a side salad, for example—you don’t want to make a meal of entirely fried apps.
Or, Sass says, add a side salad or roasted veggies to your entrée so you fill up on fiber- and antioxidant-rich foods for a boost of nutrition. Bonus? You probably won’t finish your entrée and can bring home leftovers.
When it comes to carbs, Sass says, look for whole-food carbs, like fingerling potatoes or black beans instead of mashed potatoes or mac and cheese, which are high in saturated fats and low in fiber.
Going out to eat should be an enjoyable experience, even when you’re being mindful of the types of food with which you’re fueling your body.
“If you know you want to indulge, pick one splurge item and then choose healthy options to balance it out,” Sass says.
For example, if you know you want dessert, order a lighter meal like grilled chicken or fish with veggies. Or, she says, if you really want fries, order your burger on lettuce instead of a bun to make room for the good stuff.
“Many people are used to all-or-nothing meals—dieting or overindulging—but choosing the middle actually feels best because you get to enjoy the indulgence without ending the meal feeling stuffed and sluggish and waking up the next day with a food hangover,” Sass says.
Beware of the Hidden Calorie Bombs
It’s no surprise at this point that the Bloomin’ Onion appetizer from Outback Steakhouse is pretty terrible for you. It clocks in at 1950 calories, 155 grams of fat and 56 grams of saturated fat, and 3,840 milligrams of sodium.
But there are foods on the menu that look healthy, but can set you back in a sneaky way.
“Salads can be calorie bombs if they’re loaded with extras like cheese, bacon, croutons, and eggs, in addition to dressing,” Sass says.
Same applies to vegetables: “Scope out veggies that are not fried or drowning in butter or creamy sauces.”
She also points out that creamy soups are often more caloric than you’d expect, as well as fruity cocktails, which are high in sugar.
Mixed dishes that combine carbs, meat and cheese, like quesadillas, also tend to be high in calories. But before you even get to the meal, you could consume an entrée’s worth of calories in chips and salsa.
Here’s What to Order at These Steakhouses, According to a Dietitian
Applebee’s: Cedar Salmon with Maple Mustard Glaze and Broccoli
- Salmon: 370 calories, 110 calories from fat, 12 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 27 grams carbs, 2 grams fiber, 19 grams sugar, 38 grams protein; broccoli (with butter and seasoning): 100 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams fat, 4.5 grams saturated fat, 6 grams carbs, 2 grams fiber, 2 grams sugar, 3 grams protein
Outback Steakhouse: Grilled Chicken on the Barbie with Seasonal Mixed Veggies
- 390 calories, 120 calories from fat, 14 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 34 grams carbs, 6 grams fiber, 20 grams sugar, 35 grams protein
Chili’s: Black Bean and Veggie Fajitas
- Veggie fajitas: 630 calories, 310 calories from fat, 34 grams fat, 6 grams saturated fat, 67 grams carbs, 19 grams fiber, 20 grams sugar, 28 grams protein
Texas Roadhouse: 6 oz. Dallas Filet with Fresh Veggies and Sweet Potato
- Dallas filet: 270 calories, 90 calories from fat, 10 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 6 grams carbs, 2 grams fiber, 2 grams sugar, 45 grams protein; fresh veggies: 190 calories, 140 calories from fat, 15 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 12 grams carbs, 5 grams fiber, 5 grams sugar, 4 grams protein; sweet potato (no topping): 350 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 62 grams carbs, 10 grams fiber, 19 grams sugar, 6 grams protein
LongHorn Steakhouse: Homemade Texas Chili with Mixed Green, Hand-chopped Salad with Vinaigrette
- Bowl of chili: 350 calories, 180 calories from fat, 20 grams fat, 8 grams saturated fat, 15 grams carbs, 6 grams fiber, 3 grams sugar, 26 grams protein; salad: 100 calories, 40 calories from fat, 4.5 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 12 grams carbs, 2 grams fiber, 4 grams sugar, 4 grams protein
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