You're out with friends and the plate placed in front of you looks like a meal you could have made yourself and packed in your cooler. Except for one thing: You didn't make it yourself. Can you trust the chef?
Jacqueline Keller, founding director of NutriFit LLC, recalls working as a restaurant assistant manager where she witnessed many unsavory back-of-the-house practices, including: using chicken instead of turkey and vice versa, mixing ground beef into ground turkey for turkey burgers, diluting whole-fat salad dressing with water to make it "light" and using whole-fat cheese instead of reduced-fat cheese. Those in the field claim it happens more often than you'd expect. And making a special request doesn't guarantee you'll get what you want, either.
According to Walter Husbands, a former resort chef and the Executive Chef for Aramark, a Pennsylvania-based food service company, the biggest problem usually lies with the saute cook. Armed with a pitcher full of melted butter and a ladle, saute chefs don't usually show much self-restraint. And, since 50 to 70 percent of a menu typically funnels through the saute cook, the only way to avoid this fat-laden sabotage is by ordering something grilled, poached, steamed or baked, so that you can skip the saute line altogether.
Other times, an uneducated wait staff may be to blame. Husbands tells of a waiter who told him that his restaurant's peanut sauce had "not a drop of oil in it," as he watched puddles of oil form on the surface of this "fat-free" sauce.
Asking for special requests during rush hour also diminishes your chances of getting what you want. "If you ask for a piece of fish grilled without fat, you're dealing with a cook who's done 150 pieces of fish the same way, and you're number 151. It throws him for a loop." Don't be afraid to send something back if it's not what you ordered. "If you ordered ‘sauce on the side' and it comes out on top, don't eat it just to avoid causing trouble," says Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD.
She also recommends that you:
- Ask for the sauce ingredients.
- Beware of the calories in beverages, which can add up quickly. Always go for water.
- Pass on the bread, or ask for it to be served with the entree so it has equal status with your meal.
- Beware of individual pizzas, which are often enough for four people.
- Order dressing on the side instead of asking to have your salad lightly dressed.
- If you've been craving chicken parmesan but won't be satisfied by a grilled chicken salad, order chicken parmesan but only eat half of it. Consider whether you'll be satisfied with a menu-labeled low-cal version, or if you're better off eating half of the "real" thing.