Healthy Food Swaps for Dining Out


image: Getty

Food and cocktails are like two peas in a pod. There’s pretty much no better companion to a night of drinking and general merrymaking than a great snack. Typical bar food is fried, cheese-heavy and generally kind of terrible for you — a less-than-ideal situation when you remember that booze has calories too (plus sugar and other best-in-moderation things). But a night of drinking need not be a food-less affair, and take heart that some restaurants are squaring off against unhealthy bar food with upgraded options. Applebee’s in particular has inspired us with its new The Pub Diet menu, a selection of decidedly healthy options for filling out that bar tab. Ahead, easy swaps you can make during your next round of drinks to keep your bar visit a little better for you.

Ditch: Mac and cheese. This decadent treat tastes great and is wonderfully nostalgic, but unless you’re going super-gourmet, the risk of getting a mediocre version means it’s probably best to skip that trio of melted cheese, starch and butter altogether.

Pick: Anything with quinoa in it. The superfood is trendy, but it’s for good reason. It’s packed with protein and is a great option for modified diets — a favorite of the gluten-free or vegetarians. It’s versatile and has a great texture. And it will fill you up nicely. (Hint: Try it in Applebee’s Cedar Grilled Chicken dish, which features a quinoa cranberry pecan rice blend.)

Ditch: Plain salad. Thought you beat the system by ordering a salad? Not so fast! Iceberg-heavy dishes don’t do a heck of a lot for you nutrition-wise and all those dressings/additives (ahem, lettuce wedge “salad”) to make it more palatable can really add up.

Pick: Spinach anything. Spinach is just so good for you — it’s chock-full of vitamin A and is an excellent source of protein (while barely weighing in on the calorie count). Ask your bartender about swapping spinach in that garden salad or order a dish that has it as a side (like Applebee’s Pepper-Crusted Sirloin, which comes with tasty sauteed spinach).

Ditch: Chicken wings. The chicken itself isn’t the problem here — the problem is the process it goes through to become a bar favorite. Chicken wings, in addition to being slathered in sauce, are likely fried before landing on your plate.

Pick: Grilled chicken. Get the same protein going through the fryer first. While you could opt for a grilled chicken sandwich, a chicken-based entree is also a good option. (Hint: Applebee’s has you covered with its Cedar Grilled Chicken dish, which includes an apple relish and a quinoa side.) Lots of interesting tastes on one plate means you won’t miss that fiery, fried kick.

Ditch: Nachos. Salsa is one of our world’s greatest condiments, but when you mix it with melted cheese and fried corn chips (and whatever other toppings you desire, like meats and sour cream) you have a grease-laden, albeit tasty, mess.

Pick: The aforementioned nachos have a lot going on, so replace it with an equally complex dish — something with good texture and a variety of tastes. Case in point? Applebee’s Pepper-Crusted Sirloin. The texture of the pepper crust won’t have you missing the crunch of the chips, the steak fulfills all meat-based needs and the bed of whole grains nicely fills in for carb cravings.

Ditch: Mozzarella sticks. This holy combination of cheese, starchy batter and fried is oh so tasty, but it gets old quick.

Pick: Figure out which aspect of mozzarella sticks is the most appealing and then go for a dish that replicates it in a healthier way. Is all that gooey cheese getting to you? Try a healthy spinach or kale-heavy salad with a smattering of cheese. Is it that bready, fried shell that’s got you hankering? Go for a different, and better for you, carb hit with something like a light rice pilaf or the above-mentioned quinoa. Either selection will pack a tasty (and nutritional) punch that will far outweigh the pitfalls of those sticks.

Sponsored by Applebee’s