If your next two weeks involve more restaurant hopping than time at the gym, you’re not alone: Philadelphia Restaurant Week is upon us, folks. For the uninitiated, the promotion includes three (or more) courses at restaurants around the city for $20 at lunch and $35 at dinner. It’s a great chance to try out restaurants you’ve always been curious about without breaking the bank. The challenge for those of us who try to eat healthfully is indulging without overdoing it.
The good news, says Havertown-based dietician and self-proclaimed food lover Deanna Segrave-Daly, is that “nothing is off the table when it comes to eating healthy. It’s all about portions and moderation.” She’s right—healthy eating doesn’t mean subsisting on lettuce and carrots. You can eat the food you love—yup, even Nutella and fried chicken—as long as you’re smart about it.
With a little prep work, it’s easy to eat smart during Restaurant Week, too. Let’s start with some general pointers:
1. If you know you’re going out, make time for a workout beforehand. Preemptively burning off some extra calories will help you keep your mind off them. After all, going for an a.m. jog means you totally earned that triple-chocolate tart.
2. Don’t starve yourself in anticipation of your big meal. First thing’s first: don’t skip breakfast. “Your metabolism is highest in the morning, so getting food in the a.m. to fuel the fire is important,” says Deanna. “You have to eat on a regular basis to keep those calories burning correctly.” For lunch, eat something light (carb and protein, please), like a quinoa salad with grilled chicken and chickpeas. And be sure to have a snack in the afternoon (yogurt perhaps, or an apple with peanut butter) to keep your metabolism from taking a nosedive.
3. Pay attention to portions. The good thing about Restuarant Week is that most restaurants don’t typically overload it when it comes to portion size; they want you to get a taste of their cooking without eating them out of house and home. But if a portion seems excessive, feel free to eat half now and take half home for later. Bonus: this trick saves you the trouble of packing a lunch for work the next day. (Check out this handy guide to proper portion sizes here.)
4. Practice moderation. When the bread basket comes, have a piece! Just try not to eat the whole basket, Deanna says. If you’re drinking wine, try guzzling a glass of water between refills to keep liquid calories in check.
5. Listen to your body. Your best gauge for ensuring that you don’t totally overdo it is you. “Your body knows when it’s full and satisfied,” says Deanna. “If you’re feeling full before dessert comes, take a bite or just eat half, and take the rest home for tomorrow.”
Okay, okay, you’re probably thinking. That’s all well and good. But what should I actually order if I’m eating out for Restaurant Week?
So glad you asked! Deanna dissected menus at a few top restaurants to show you how to order healthfully. Here’s an annotated guide to what she’d order at a.kitchen, Barbuzzo, Pumpkin and more:
135 South 18th Street, 215-825-7030
First course: Baby arugula salad
Second course: Griddled shrimp with tomato-saffron salsa (Deanna says: “Fresh-made salsa is a great way to sneak in some extra veggies. This preparation will likely include some oil, but it’ll be a heart-healthy oil.”)
Third course: Roasted red snapper (Deanna says: “Americans generally don’t eat enough fish—two servings a week is recommended—so eating out is always a good opportunity to do so. You’ll eat a well prepared fish that you probably wouldn’t make at home, and get a good dose of omega-3s in the process.”)
Fourth course: Chocolate terrine
Butcher and Singer
1500 Walnut Street, 215-732-4444
First course: Winter squash soup OR shrimp cocktail (Deanna says: “With soups, it’s always a good idea to ask what it’s made with. If it has a ton of cream in it and you’re watching your fats, get the shrimp cocktail.”)
Second course: Beef filet OR roasted chicken OR salmon (Deanna says: “If you’re going to a steakhouse, you’re going to want meat, and I’m not going to be a dietician that makes you order a salad. If you go for the beef, try eating half and taking half home for lunch the next day. Pace yourself and enjoy it.”)
Sides: Green beans amandine (Deanna says: “The sides at a steakhouse can really bust your calorie budget—mashed potatoes drowning in butter, creamed spinach. The beans here, prepared with almonds, are the clear winner.”)
Third course: Blood orange sorbet
110 South 13th Street, 215-546-9300
From the chef: Enjoy the crostini! (Deanna says: “If you’re going to enjoy bread, here’s a great way to do it. These feature a nice mix of veggies and beans prepared in a healthy way.”)
First course: Roasted beet salad (Deanna says: “If you think you don’t like beets, you’ve probably never tried them roasted. Roasting veggies brings out the natural sugars and makes them taste sweeter.”)
Second course: Grilled swordfish with farro (Deanna says: “The farro caught my eye. It’s an awesome whole grain that’s nutty, chewy and absolutely delicious.”)
Third course: Chianti-soaked prunes (Deanna says: “With my health hat on, I would pick the prunes. It’s really a shame that prunes have such a bad rap because they’re absolutely brimming with fiber. But if I were eating at Barbuzzo, it’s sacrilegious not to get the salted caramel budino. It’s absolutely amazing, and it’s not a huge portion. You can eat half and bring it home, if you’d like. I’d totally do an extra workout the next day just to eat this.”)
210 West Rittenhouse Square, 215-790-2533
First course: Sunflower, with Meyer lemon, radish and French mache
Second course: Swordfish OR multigrain risotto
Third course: Warm roasted apples with almond caramel and thyme ice cream (Deanna says: “There’s fruit here, of course, but the thyme ice cream caught my eye. Herbs infused into sweets is a trend we’re seeing more and more, and this is a great way to try it.”
1713 South Street, 215-545-4448
First course: Pumpkin soup with curry and passion fruit
Second course: Pocono trout with cauliflower and violet mustard (Deanna says: “Eat local, eat fish.”)
Third course: Butterscotch pudding OR goats milk cheesecake (Deanna says: “Calorie-wise, it’s probably a toss up, so go with whatever is appealing to you.”)
926 South Street, 215-592-8180
First course: Smoked chile deviled eggs (Deanna says: “Eggs are fine as long as you’re not eating 10 of them. They’re a great source of a lot of different nutrients.”)
Second course: Relish tray (Deanna says: “This is another food trend we’re seeing and as a dietician I’m really excited about it. More and more studies are showing real health benefits with fermentation—pickled foods—because they’re packed with probiotics.”
Third course: Stuffed cabbage (Deanna says: “This is like a dietician’s dream come true, even with the sour cream. The ruffage, whole-grain barley and pickled beets are just fantastic.”)
Fourth course: Passion fruit bar
237 St. James Place, 215-625-8800
First course (for the table): Salatim (salads) AND hummus (Deanna says: “Have both! This is a place I’m dying to go back to because there are so many awesome choices here if you’e trying to be a little bit healthier.”)
Second course (choice of two): Pumpkin soup, marinated Brussels sprouts, and/or cured salmon (Deanna says: “If you don’t think you’re a huge Brussels fan, this is when to try them—they know what they’re doing.”)
Third course: Hanger steak OR spiced eggplant OR salmon shishlik
Fourth course: Halvah mousse (chickpea praline and berries) OR Konafi (ricotta, apples and labaneh ice cream)
>> Want more healthy-eating tips? Head here.