Even in a city like New Orleans, where I’m currently stationed for a few months as the nutritionist on a film, you can eat great, healthy food. And when I say “even in” I say that because right off the bat, when you think of New Orleans you’ll remember it is known for its traditional Creole and Cajun cuisine, with items like jumbalaya, crawfish, gumbo, and my favorite name-po’boys- which are overstuffed meat sandwiches on white bread. You can imagine how I feel about that particular dish! I love the vibe, live music, people, weather, architecture, and just about everything about New Orleans, and I even do love the food. It hasn’t been any harder for me to eat here than LA. Here are some tips:
The first thing I look at in a restaurant menu is the salad selection. If the salads sound good with an abundance of greens and veggies, then I know this restaurant has a good chance of respecting veggies and having a lot of veggies I can construct a meal around. If there are no listed salads, or if it’s an obligatory, sad-sounding little bitty salad or a salad where the main feature is really the other items along with it, like the roquefort cheese or shrimp scampi, it is a bit of a warning sign because I know that it might be harder to get abundant veggie items at that restaurant. Of course it is doable, and believe me I do it all the time, but if I have any say in picking where we’re eating, I go with a restaurant that has healthy salads with light ingredients.
Here’s some restaurants that have great salad options- Mediterranean, Italian, Mexican and Japanese, just to name a few. Last night we ate at a wonderful Mediterranean restaurant here in NOLA called Byblos. It had outdoor seating, which is a huge plus with me. It wasn’t super fancy, but it had nice white tablecloths and the food was abundant and fresh, which in my book is more important than trendy decor!
Last night I started with a large Greek salad with no feta cheese and the dressing on the side. I also ordered a glass of red wine and drank most of that first, along with some water, so I had less liquids when I was eating to let my food digest better (liquids dilute digestive enzymes). I suggest skipping the goat cheese (which is far better than cow’s cheese) in your salad if you know you’re going to have heavier food later.
Here’s another thing to look for: Does the restaurant have a bunch of vegetable sides, or vegetarian side dishes, or do the meat dishes come with a lot of cooked veggies? If you are eating fish or some kind of land animal, you should ask for extra veggies and exclude any kind of starch, such as rice or potatoes. Here in NOLA you have to beware of the “stewed” veggie items, which are usually stewed in pork lard or bacon. Icky!!!
If you’re vegetarian and exploring the menu, there’s a good indication that you can probably order a veggie platter if there are a lot of vegetables in the dishes. Or, at the very least, order a bunch of healthy sides and put them together. Mediterranean is an awesome cuisine because so many of the dishes are vegetarian. The chef made us a veggie platter with hummus, tabbouleh, lightly sauteed spinach (I asked for minimal oil), rice-stuffed grape leaves and falafel (okay it’s fried, but it is not an everyday food). It was so yummy, and I was able to truly eat to my fill! I didn’t feel like I had “starched” out, because with the huge salad, spinach, and mostly-parsley-tabbouleh, there were a ton of greens in the meal. The chickpeas in the falafel and hummus combined to go well with the couple of pita pieces I had and the rice in the grape leaves, since they contain protein and starch. Oh yeah, we had an appetizer of baba ganoush (eggplant with tomatoes, onions, etc.) and I put some of it on my salad.
During the day, we explored the French Quarter for a few hours. It was super hot. I had a big Glowing Green Smoothie first, which already put me in a good position to not eat “badly” during the rest of the day, and I was drinking a lot of water as I walked around. I didn’t see anything I really felt like eating, especially in the heat of the day, so I opted for some fruit at the outdoor market, which totally tied me over until I got home to my fridge in the hotel room. Of course, if push came to shove and I was truly hungry, I would have found something to eat by the guidelines above. Like one of my favorite easy to make desserts!
I’ll do more sample menus from other types of restaurants, if you guys are into that? What tips do you have for ordering out at your favorite types of restaurants?