Eating Healthy while Eating Out

As we head into the second summer of COVID 19 we are hopeful of being able to safely enjoy “eating out” and the many wonderful restaurants Rowan County has to offer. We are thankful that many of our restaurants have survived the pandemic and we look forward to eating locally and helping them thrive once again. But during our COVID quarantine and shutdowns, many of us vowed to take the opportunity to turn over a new leaf and begin eating healthy and exercising and taking better care of ourselves. So what is a person to do? How about we do both….we can enjoy a wonderful dinner out and maintain our new healthy lifestyle at the same time? Here is how we do that….

Before we head out to some of our local restaurants with an eye on finding the healthiest options available, we need to know our goal. Setting a healthy eating goal  was a challenge because there are many definitions of healthy eating….Mediterranean, low carbohydrate, Keto, vegan, gluten free, paleo. The options are often mindboggling and endless. In talking with Toi Degree, Extension Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences for Rowan County, she recommends keeping plans basic. “Lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, choose the simplest sauce – no cream but stay with the marinara sauce. Stay away from sauces with a lot of additives. Go to the restaurant’s website and review their menu items and try to make choices ahead and then stick to it.” Others have simple advice as well. Dr. Ronnie Barrier, of Rowan Family Medicine instructs his patients, “avoid eating anything white.” According to Dr. Barrier, it is often too confusing for people to follow a specific diet, but by avoiding “whites” you tend to eat less refined sugars and carbohydrates such as rice, potatoes and bread, and this often helps keep your weight and your cholesterol down. More sound advice comes from Dr. Chris Magryta, a pediatrician with Salisbury Pediatrics, who writes columns for the Salisbury Post and his wife Nichole, who is a nutritionist and wrote a wonderful book, Nourishing Your Tribe (available on Amazon). According to Dr. Magryta, “ Eating out is a great source of pleasure. However, eating out healthy can be tricky. I go by the 90/10 rule. Eat 90% of your meals as supremely healthy and then the other 10% is lower risk. The 90% bucket should be whole food based with lots of vegetables and fruits and devoid of added sugars and processed junk. Eating a chicken tips with grilled vegetables dish at Palms Cafe (1609 W Innes), salad with grilled salmon at Sweet Meadow Café (105 E Fisher St) or Ropa Vieja at Mambo Grill & Tapas (122 E. Fisher St) is a route to better health.  Limit fried foods, flour based foods like pasta and breads and added sugar foods like desserts and beverages to your 10% bucket.”

Given all this information, I hit the streets of downtown Salisbury to try to determine where I could enjoy dining out and find healthy options. First stop was City Tavern (113 E Fisher St) where I spoke with Ashleigh and reviewed the menu. She discussed a number of healthy options prepared by Chef Chantelle and her kitchen staff to include Mahi tacos, shrimp or tuna tacos, Seared Tuna Ahi, and City Wedge salad which is her personal favorite.

A trip to Chef Santos by Good Fellas (123 E Fisher St) revealed surprising option. Chef Santos will make special orders….Crystal Scallops without the sauce and grilled vegetables instead of pasta.

La Cava (329 S Church St) is well known for exquisite cuisine, and exotic options. A review of their menu (which changes frequently) revealed a bounty of fresh fish options and fresh fruits and vegetables. Gianni Moscardini recommends baked bronzina (which is a European sea bass) as his healthiest option. Also, the watermelon salad and the caprese salad are excellent choices.

Back on Main Street, Carpe Vinum 121 (121 S Main St), one of our newer restaurants that actually opened during COVID, and is doing quite well, has a varied and delicious menu. Their top entre rating a “healthy star” was Seared Sea Bass. The Shrimp Scampi is also an excellent choice.

Sidewalk Deli (120 S Main St) is also a great option. Rick Anderson has a variety of healthy choices there, and they specialize in fresh. The Grilled Chicken Spring Salad is wonderful and includes grilled chicken, watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, Mandarin oranges, and pineapple on a bed of mesclun mix greens topped with Feta cheese. Yum!

Shuckin’ Shack(118 N Main St) is a great option for boiled shrimp, but order a side salad rather than fries to keep your healthy choices on track.  And Pinocchios (518 S Salisbury Ave, Spencer) has healthy options such as Chicken with Celery Pesto and grilled apple or Seared tuna with cantaloupe coulis.

There is also Morgan Ridge Railwalk Brewery and Eatery (421 N Lee St) with their wonderful Southwest Chicken Salad.Typically Asian food tends to be healthier than most, depending on the choices you make. If you go to Bangkok Downtown (131 E Innes St), try the sushi. Stay away from battered and fried dishes such as Sesame Chicken. The Pho at Yummi Banh Mi Streetside Café (121 N Long St) is also an excellent choice.

Mexican restaurants can provide some healthy choices. Don’t gorge on the chips and salsa while you wait for your meal! Order the Fajitas with chicken or shrimp and enjoy the salad with Pico de Gallo and Guacamole rather than the typical sides of rice and beans. We have delicious Mexican options such as Monterey (119 N Link Ave),  and El Patron (1030 Freeland Dr).

Even Ivan’s (2024 Old Mocksville Rd)  and The Smoke Pit (117 E Innes) may make you feel like you are “cheating” on healthy dining, but  a seafood dish with grilled mushrooms at Ivans’, or a grilled chicken plate at The Smoke Pit (select slaw and collards as your sides) will keep you on the right path. And DJs (1502 W Innes) has a wonderful Southern Belle salad as one of their signature salads that features a harvest spring mix with walnuts, sliced red onion, peaches, cranberries, cherry tomatoes and goat cheese.

But what about alcohol? Many people enjoy a cocktail when they dine out. Make no mistake, alcohol is a poison, but some choices are worse than others. Sweet and fruity drinks are high in calories and to be avoided. If you MUST drink hard liquor, the lowest calorie choices are tequila, vodka or gin, but be careful what you mix them with!  Some wines are a better choice. Recent research indicates that one glass of red wine, preferably pinot noir, is the healthiest choice and actually has some health benefits. Beer is not your best bet for calories, but a light beer is better in that department.

As with anything in life, moderation is the key. Portion size is also a key. According to Toi Degree, “Avoid portion distortion – half a cup of most things is the proper amount for an adult.” Many restaurants serve twice that much so plan to take home half your food and have for another meal. That leaves out the “all you can eat” buffets, but they are probably lost to Covid-19 restrictions anyway.

So go out on the town, support our local restaurants, and enjoy a healthy meal!