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Valerie Phillips: Eating out without binging out

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 10 2012 7:06 p.m. MST

Restaurant dining can be hazardous to your waistline. It's hard to resist the "splurge" mentality; there's that unconscious thought that, "I'm eating out, so I'm going to forget about the calories." And, the reason that a lot of the dishes taste so good is because they contain lots of butter, cream, oil, salt and sugar. In fact, a new Food Network series, called "Fat Chef," explores the struggles of overweight chefs, underscoring the idea that there's a lot of calories coming out of those kitchens.

But more restaurants are also offering some healthy choices that are filling and flavorful besides the old standby grilled chicken salad.

On the chain restaurant front, Applebee's recently updated its menu to offer five entrees that are under 550 calories. They include a Roasted Garlic 7-ounce Sirloin served with herbed potatoes and a grilled portobello mushroom cap, Sizzling Chili Lime Chicken with Asian-style vegetables, Sizzling Asian Shrimp & Broccoli, Signature Sirloin with Garlic Herb Shrimp and Grilled Dijon Chicken & Portobellos. According to an Applebee's press release, the Signature Sirloin with Garlic Herb Shrimp was Applebee's top seller among all entrees during the first two months of 2011, the first time in Applebee's history that a lower calorie entree was the best-selling independent menu item.

On the local front, Pinon Cafe & Market at 2095 E, 1300 South offers a "Healthy Meal" takeout option. The menu, which changes daily, can be found on the cafe;'s website at pinonmarket.com/menus/healthy-meals#healthy. They include entrees such as Salmon Cake with Cucumber Apple Slaw and Herbed Brown Rice, Roasted Vegetable Napoleon with Pan-Seared Chicken Breast, Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Apricot Chutney and Steamed Vegetables, or Seared White Fish in Fennel Saffron Broth with Seasonal Vegetables.

Cafe owner and chef Victoria Topham said the meals contain a healthy ratio and balance of carbs, proteins and fats. Fats and sugars are used sparingly, and carbs are whole-grain instead of white flour. Flavor is added through herbs, spices, balsamic vinegar, vegetables and so on.

She said she's found through her own experience that it's important to eat the right kinds of foods to fuel the body's metabolism and burn calories.

"The answer for women has always been to eat less and exercise more, and when you are younger, that works," said Topham. "But when you are older it matters what you eat as well. You can eat nothing but salad and still not change your body. You need to eat a combination of the right kinds of foods."

The price is $28 for two adult meals, or $15 for one adult meal. She offers discounts for ordering multiple meals. The meals are ordered in advance by email or phone so that they can be made up fresh and picked up between 5-7 p.m. Similar menu items are available in the cafe's display case for walk-in customers, but they may vary.

"A lot of processed food tastes good because it has a lot of sugar and oil in it," she said. "But we are coming up with real, fresh food that is satisfying and pretty healthy."

For several months, Log Haven's chef Dave Jones has offered a three-course "Low Cal-High Impact Special" under 700 calories. It is also gluten-free, according to the restaurant's spokesperson Lesley Christoph. Currently offered is a first course salad of wild arugula, avocado, quinoa, pine nuts, Meyer lemon and California olive oil; and an entree of Grilled Paillard of Local Turkey served with a cassoulette of barley, butternut squash, chard, tasso, Slide Ridge Honey and local cider/mustard sauce. Dessert is Roasted Pineapple Sorbet with Coconut Water Granita and fresh mango. Price is $36, and this special will run until the end of February.

Oasis Cafe, 151 S. 500 East, last week began offering a $25 three-course dinner special to help guests to eat "responsibly." The menu changes nightly, but could include a mixed green salad or the restaurant's signature Tomato Fennel Soup for the first course; and entrees such as Pan-Roasted Scallops on Purple Sticky Rice with Wasabi Oil or Sauteed Tiger Prawns over Corn Risotto with Brussels Sprouts.

So, it IS possible to eat out and not jeopardize your diet. But there's no guarantee that you won't jeopardize your wallet.

Valerie Phillips is the former Deseret News food editor. She blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com. Email: vphillips@desnews.com

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