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Vicki Boortz: The dining out dilemma

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Vicki Boortz

When you’ve set health goals, the prospect of a romantic dinner for two, meeting friends for appetizers or attending a family celebration at a restaurant can seem daunting. The minute you walk in the door, you’re confronted with tempting food choices you might not face at home — creamy, cheesy, gooey, battered and fried — but armed with the right tricks, it’s possible to experience a night out without regretting it in the morning.

Here are some suggestions for not letting dining experiences get the best of you. Remember, if you do end up making less than desirable choices, you can continue working on your goals tomorrow. Don’t give up!

  • Look for menus that include nutrition facts. If you have diabetes, you may need to know the carbohydrate content. If you have high blood pressure, you may need to know the sodium content.
  • Ask about substitutions. Some restaurants give an extra portion of vegetable in place of a potato. Make sure your vegetables are prepared with olive oil, not butter.
  • Review the menu online. Plan what you are going to order ahead of time. It’s easier to make your decision when you have researched the menu choices.
  • Ask for a container at the start of the meal. When your food arrives, place half of the meal in it. That way, you’ll eat less and have leftovers.
  • Ask for a small plate to use with your meal. Put half on your plate and fill the to-go container with the other half. You will feel like you’re eating more with a smaller plate.
  • Avoid alcohol or limit yourself to one small beverage and always ask for water along with this drink.
  • Choose water for your beverage. You can eliminate many calories by avoiding soda or lemonade.
  • When ordering salad, ask for salad dressing on the side. Place your fork in the dressing first and then spear the lettuce.
  • Drink a full glass of water before eating to help you fill up prior to eating your meal.
  • Skip the bread and tortilla chips.
  • Consider splitting an entrée or sharing a dessert. Some restaurants will divide it up for you and serve on a smaller plate.

You should still be able to enjoy those special nights out, you just need to be aware of the pitfalls of restaurant eating. Eat healthy, drink wisely and be merry for years to come.

Date and Nut Bars

Makes 12 servings

¼ cup dates, pitted and chopped

¼ cup creamy natural peanut butter

¼ cup maple syrup

½ cup walnuts, chopped

½ cup roasted, unsalted, almonds, chopped

1½ cup old fashioned oats

¼ tsp. cinnamon

¼ cup chocolate chips, melted

In a food processor, process dates until a soft sticky dough forms. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine walnuts, almonds, oats and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a small saucepan over low heat, warm peanut butter and maple syrup, stir until combined.

Add the processed dates and the maple syrup and peanut butter mixture to the walnuts and oats. Stir until well combined. Transfer this mixture to a plastic wrapped 8x8 baking dish and press until flat and level. Transfer to the refrigerator for 20 minutes or until firm.

Meanwhile, heat chocolate chips in the microwave and spread a thin layer of chocolate on the bars.

Store in an airtight container for up to three days. Can be stored in the freezer for longer.

Nutrition analysis per serving: 210 calories, 10 g fat, 5 g protein, 28 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 50 mg sodium

Blueberry Toast Recipe

Makes 1 serving

  • 2 slices whole wheat bread
  • ½ pint fresh blueberries*
  • 2 Tbsp. nut butter (test recipe used almond butter)*
  • 2 tsp. honey (optional)

Toast bread. Spread with nut butter and top with fruit. Drizzle with honey if desired.

*NOTE: Recipe can be modified to produce many different flavor profiles. Try these delicious combinations:

  • Peanut butter with fresh sliced grapes
  • Almond butter with fresh sliced strawberries
  • Pecan butter with fresh sliced peaches or nectarines
  • Sunflower seed butter with sliced fresh banana
  • Cashew butter with sliced fresh pear

Nutrition analysis per serving: 450 calories, 20 g fat, 15 g protein, 57 g carbohydrate, 11 g fiber, 300 mg sodium.

Vicki Boortz is a registered dietitian at

Gundersen Health System.

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