When you’re trying to eat “clean”—opting for foods that are as close to their natural state as possible—going to restaurants can be a bit of a minefield. And even though it’s easier to see what ingredients go into your food when you’re making it yourself…sometimes a girl just wants to go out to eat, you know?
Eating clean at restaurants is far from impossible, says Ashley Spivak, director for Clean Plates—not if you know what to look for. “Just because you aren’t whipping out your immersion blender doesn’t mean you can’t eat clean, nor does it mean you have to resort to eating a salad for dinner—again,” she says. “As the restaurant curator for Clean Plates, my team and I evaluate menus so our readers can easily find spots in L.A. or New York where they can eat clean without sacrificing taste. But if you’re traveling or we are not yet in your ‘hood, here are some tips to help you eat clean no matter where you are.”
Look for buzzwords. “Organic,” “locally sourced,” “grass-fed,” “antibiotic- and hormone-free,” “sustainably raised” are, yes, a bit trendy—but they can also serve as indicators that the restaurant is concerned and conscientious about its sources.
Is the restaurant transparent? Specifically: Is it up front about who its vendors, farmers, and purveyors are? Does it explain where the produce comes from, or what the origin of its meat might be? “If so, thumbs-up,” Spivak says.
Check out the veggie ratio. "Are there veggie options on the menu, or will the bulk of your meal be just meat, bread, rice and/or pasta?" Spivak says. Clean eating means plenty of vegetables.
Look for multiple menus. ”Just because a restaurant offers a gluten-free or vegan menu doesn’t automatically mean it’s clean, but it does often mean that it would be more accommodating to your specific dietary requests,” she says.
Know your chains. Across the board, more national restaurants are incorporating clean options into their repertoire. “Chipotle and Le Pain Quotidian are good examples,” Spivak says.
Always get some veggie sides… ”If you’re in a clean-eating desert zone and find yourself with an unhealthy dish, adding a side of greens to your meal will give you a little nutrient boost,” Spivak says. “In fact, make those greens the star of the meal. So think of your meatballs and spaghetti (with spinach) as meatballs and spinach (with spaghetti) instead. Sauteed greens go with just about everything, so try adding it to even the most suspicious of options.”
…but ask about cooking oils. Veggies are excellent—so long as they’re not drenched in low-quality, high-fat vegetable oils, which Spivak says can have inflammatory qualities. “Instead, ask for them to be sauteed in olive oil; most restaurants will have it on hand,” she says.
"Wine taste" your food. Meaning? Take your time! “Thoroughly chew your food, and appreciate the flavors,” Spivak says. “It will make your meal taste better. You don’t need to count your chews before swallowing—that’s just silly!—but really tasting your food will help you slow down, enjoy your company more, and feel fuller quicker.”
Go a little Portlandia. "Ask to see your chicken’s birth certificate—just kidding! But you should use your server as a resource," Spivak says. "You may feel awkward, but restaurants that employ clean eating practices are usually pretty psyched to talk about it. If you have a question about where something is sourced from or if it can be prepared a certain way…ask!"
What are your best tips for clean eating at restaurants?