Healthier Dining Out: Steakhouses

The classic steakhouse menu is full of gigantic mains and sides loaded up with butter, cheese and sour cream. Here are some basic tips for enjoying the feast while keeping it sensible.

The classic steakhouse menu is full of gigantic mains and sides loaded up with butter, cheese and sour cream. Here are some basic tips for enjoying a full feast while keeping it sensible.

A Whole Lotta Meat

Cuts of beef vary in calories and fat content -- not mention in size. One menu classic -- rib eye steak -- is typically 12 to 14 ounces and has more than 700 calories, 40 grams of fat and 15 grams of saturated fat. That's all in one single cut of meat; we haven't even added in the sides yet. If you can't skip one of those behemoth steaks, split it with a friend or take half home.

If you're looking for a leaner cut, try a simple filet mignon, which often comes in more modest 6- or 8-ounce portions. A filet mignon has about 350 to 400 calories, 20 grams of fat and 8 grams of saturated fat. While you might be convinced it's "go big or go home," you will find smaller portions on the menu such as petite filets, which are closer to a suggested, everyday serving size (i.e., the size of your palm).

Of course, steakhouses have lighter seafood and chicken dishes available, but chances are, if you're at a steakhouse, you came for the meat.

Salads & Sides

A steakhouse salad menu (or, in some cases, salad bar) can be your best friend or your worst enemy when it comes to healthy choices. Many restaurants offer appealing high-calorie salad toppers like chunky blue cheese, creamy mayo-based dressings and homemade croutons that have been fried or drenched in butter. Stick to mostly vegetables and vinaigrette dressing on the side -- especially if you're doing it up with your meaty main. You don’t need to eat a meal’s worth of calories before you even get your entrée.

Sides to stay away from include the obviously decadent macaroni and cheese, creamed spinach, French fries and mashed potatoes (especially loaded with gravy). If you’re dining with a group, organize it so that everyone orders just one of these high-cal delights and share them so you all have a taste. To balance out the heavy meat main, choose a baked potato (sweet or white) and steamed or grilled vegetables. Ask to trade the butter on the veggies for a drizzle of olive oil and a light sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

Desserts

Much like their meat plates, steakhouses often have classically gigantic desserts -- cakes, pies, cheesecake, ice cream sundaes – no fruit salads on these menus! Here's that same old advice: split a dessert with the table. By meal's end you'll probably be stuffed anyway, so a couple spoonfuls of dessert should be enough. If you want a little something just for yourself, consider a skim cappuccino with a sprinkle of sugar.

Menu 411

As with any dining out experience, checking out the menu before you get there is a smart idea. Steakhouse chains like Outback Steakhouse list some of their healthier menu options online, and Lonestar Steakhouse has their full menu available. Even some of the higher-end, local places post their full offerings. They won't necessarily have nutrition info detailed, but you can still plan ahead. You might want to call the day of to find out about any specials.

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