Friday, January 11, 2008

Dining Out

You've seen me mention Qdoba, the cali-mex restaurant that sits smack in between my gym and my apartment. They have good, quick food and super tasty salt-lime tortilla chips... many nights I drool as I drive by there (especially after a swim!) Especially when living and cooking by myself on weeknights, it's awefully tempting to swing in and grab a burrito and some chips. But in the effort to A. not spend a lot of money eating out, and B. lose some of my extra body mass, I try to limit my Qdoba stops to one night every 2-3 weeks. This week was one of those weeks.

In past stops I've typically ordered the following (I'll refer to this later as Meal A): a "Naked" Chicken or Pulled Pork Burrito (naked meaning without the tortilla, so it's just a bunch of stuff in a bowl-- I was trying to be healthy and cut some calories), including cilantro-lime rice, pinto beans, meat, and pico de gallo or salsa verde, and often I'd say yes to the cheese and sour cream; then-- here's the bad part-- I'd also get a Large order of chips and queso (a warm, spicy cheese dip).

This week when I stopped in, I pre-meditated my order. I'd say no to the cheese and sour cream, and would also skip the queso. That would cut a lot of the fat out of the order, but still allow me a little treat with the chips. My will-power to resist the unhealthy choices was boosted when one of my class instructors from the gym came in and got in line behind me!
So here's what I ordered this week (I'll refer to this later as Meal B): A "naked" chicken burrito, with the rice and beans and both salsas, but without cheese or sour cream, and with a Small order of chips.

What's the difference, I began to wonder? Does this really matter that much whether or not I skip the queso or the tortilla? While in line, my instructor and I were chatting about how the tortillas pack in so much extra-- in fact, he said he'd looked online at the nutrition information and saw that they were more than 300 calories each! So that prompted me to check out the nutrition information on the website. Here's what I found, as it pertains to my two meal choices:

Holy smokes! My previous meal was nearly 1700 calories!!! Compare that to the ~2000-2200 calories a day that I typically burn-- that doesn't leave much room for anything else to eat all day without going way over (and we know what eating more calories than you burn can lead to...). I was also astounded to see how much that tortilla would change things. Even eating a regular burrito without the additional fat (cheese, sour cream) makes for a nearly 900 calorie meal. Not bad if you're burning a ton, and/or if you're okay with maintaining your weight. But if you're trying to shoot for a ~1400-1500 calorie/day diet to lose weight, the burrito is not as "healthy" of an option as you may think.

The point of this blog post isn't to make you feel guilty about your burrito stops. I know too well that there are just too many great burrito shacks in Kalispell and Missoula (and I'm sure elsewhere) that are quick and easy and tasty for those of us who are constantly on-the-go. I'm not advocating we Band the Burrito. Just order wisely. Think about what your goals are, and how you can make your burrito addiction work with them :)

The other point was that there's tons of information available on the web to help you make informed decisions when eating out, especially if you take a little time before-hand to do some research. I've found that many of the national chains have information available on their websites. There's also a site called Healthy Dining Finder that lets you search for restaurants in your area, then shows you the best choices from their menu. For example, did you know that the Country Dinner Platter of Chicken 'n Dumplins from Cracker Barrell is one of the recommended meals (at just around 600 calories)? I was pleasantly surprised. See, "eating healthily at a restaurant" doesn't just mean "order a side salad with no dressing!"

So, with the weekend nearly here, have fun going out to dinner one night. Do your research and make a pre-meditated choice of what to order before you get there, and then enjoy your meal with the satisfaction of knowing that you made a good decision. You can still treat yourself-- just do it mindfully!

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