Archived Story

Planning ahead can help you avoid restaurant disasters

Published 10:49am Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A friend of mine here at the Tribune was going out to dinner the other day for her anniversary and was trying to figure out if there was something at least semi-healthy to eat at one of her favorite restaurants.

We looked up the nutrition information to a few restaurants online, and, wow, were we astounded by what we found!

As I had anticipated, Olive Garden, one of my own personal favorites for special occasions, had some bad results.

According to the restaurant’s website, one serving of the salad they serve before the meal with dressing was already 350 calories and 26 grams of fat! One breadstick was 150 calories and 2 grams of fat.

Add to that one of my old-time favorites the cheese ravioli with meat sauce, and there’d be an additional 790 calories and 28 grams of fat.

I remember my sister used to always get fettucine alfredo. That was listed as having 1,220 calories and 75 grams of fat!

Not to mention if we were going to split a piece of cake or cheesecake that totaled between 700 to 900 calories by itself.

In one meal, you’d definitely take care of your caloric input for the day, plus your fat intake for several days! Wow!

Almost disgusted by what I found, I returned to the website a few days later to see if I had just overlooked some healthier options. I kept looking around the site and came across a section listed as Garden Fare options.

There, I found listings of more balanced Italian meal options. Some simple pasta dishes were under 500 calories and under 10 grams of fat.

Their Minestrone soup only has 100 calories and only 1 gram of fat. And they have a low-fat salad dressing for much fewer calories.

Planning ahead

It really does pay off to plan ahead.

I’ve found that most restaurant chains have all of their nutrition information posted online, and it can alleviate some potential bad-eating decisions to look at that information ahead of time. That way you don’t get thrown into a situation where you’re tempted to get something not as healthy.

If the nutrition information is not available, it’s usually safe to stick to grilled foods. I try to pick a side salad instead of fries, and of course vegetables are always good.

It’s never a bad thing to take half of the entreé home or to split the meal with a friend or family member. And I try to stay away from creamed sauces and instead get a red sauce.

I’ve found I can still have a satisfying, pleasant meal by planning ahead to find the healthy options. I don’t have to be deprived.

And I’ve noticed that most restaurants are more than happy to make simple, healthier alternatives if you just ask.


My sister gave me this recipe that she got from a Weight Watchers class a few weeks ago. It’s fantastic! I froze some of the cookies so I could simply pull out what I wanted instead of having them all in front of me.

Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies


1 box spice cake mix

1 15-ounce can of pumpkin

3/4 cups chocolate chips

Mix all ingredients together. Bake cookies at 350 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes. Makes 36 cookies.