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with Alex Stalberger

Minneapolis, MN, USA

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Eat Informed: 5 Helpful Questions When Eating Out

July 26, 2017

Sometimes it's unavoidable. You are out running errands, between meetings and you need food now, this instant. Your blood sugar is low, you are feeling irritable and it's happening. You are eating fast food. 


I am thankful that in the Twin Cities, there are a plethora of options. Eating fast food doesn't necessarily mean settling for the nearest burger joint. 


That being said, even the restaurants marching around with the sign "We're Healthy" on their forehead aren't always an awesome choice. I recently was asked to try out a new healthy eating joint called Tropical Smoothie Café in St. Louis Park. Although the food was ultimately good, I found it necessary to ask questions before placing a conscious order.




My experience there made me realize that we don't always have the information we need to make an informed decision when eating out. Ta-dah! Based on my experience, I have listed 5 helpful questions to ask when ordering out. 




1. Do you have any vegetarian or vegan options available?


Hear me out. For many of you, this question comes naturally. But for those of you who consume animal products more regularly it may not be an intuitive question. In my experience, these options are more wholesome then traditional options offered. Where there is not meat, there are potentials for whole grains, legumes and other vegetables. Therefore can be beneficial whether or not you choose to incorporate animal products into your diet. Often times, a restaurant will have vegetarian or vegan option that may or may not be listed on the menu.


The key here is quality. If there is a high demand for a product, and the price remains low, the quality of the product has most likely been compromised. You deserve high quality foods. If you choose to eat animal products, make them high quality and as fresh as possible. This quality VERY seldom found in fast food restaurants. Do yourself a huge favor and avoid it. 

- Andra


Tropical Smoothie Cafe had one obvious vegetarian and no vegan options available on their menu. After asking the cashier about options, I was informed that any of their meals could be made with Beyond Meat Chicken-Free Strips.... My gut instinct, Andra, yelled at me for considering such a mysterious option (I'm still a bit unclear about what ingredients "vegan grilled chicken flavor" could possibly involve. Literally on the ingredients list... check it out HERE). Another option was to order a hummus veggie wrap without mystery special mayo-sauce or cheese and replace with nice slices of avocado. Ahhhh the relief of whole foods.






2. Would you be willing to substitute ____ for _____ ? 


I know. Most of us are midwesterners, we don't want to cause a fuss. However, if a simple substitution brings your meal option from questionable to wholesome, you are totally worth the fuss. I want to say that again: you are worth the fuss.


You are always worth it. 

- Andra




3. Is ______ naturally* sweetened?


Maybe a smoothie-specific question but also a great reminder. Not all things with fruit are without additional sugar!


Sugar rant: Sugar is killing us. It's in almost all processed foods and is parading around our fruit beverages and smoothies. Ask. 

I admit, I was duped. I ordered a fun looking smoothie thinking that this healthy joint surely wouldn't add unnecessary sugar to a FRUIT SMOOTHIE. I was wrong. unless you did your research or asked, all smoothies come with turbinado sugar. Turbinado sugar is fancy for sugar. If requested, you could replace with honey which I suppose is better but is still ultimately sugar on your sugar. Again. Ask.

*keep in mind, sweeteners like agave, maple syrup and honey are all considered natural sweeteners but are all still sugar. End rant.


4. Without the ______ , does the item come at a lower cost?


It happens all the time. Mostly when I want the nachos without the mound of pork. I am paying for the pork, but I don't want the pork. Can I not pay for the pork? 


This question may seem like a selfish question but is important. Meat is expensive to buy, keep and prepare. If I am getting less, shouldn't I also pay less? Andra agrees with you, but not all restaurants feel the same. However, it's worth it to inquire. 


If the price isn't adjustable, you may be in luck for a delightful substitution. Did you know that at Chipotle, my fast food crutch,  if you opt for a veggie bowl or burrito guacamole is FREE. yes, FREE. Actually, it is in exchange for the meat. But it still feels FREE. *does a dance* So don't feel bad, many servers may not know or have been asked the question before. Hopefully if they are asked enough, it will soon be an option on the menu!





5. Can you bring out half the order and place the other half in a to-go container?


Restaurant portions are notoriously, obnoxious and great for next day munchies. Save yourself the tummy-trouble and opt to only have half served to you at once. More than likely you will be completely satisfied by the half order. BONUS you have tomorrow's lunch. Is that eating smart or what?


This tip isn't about eating less, it's about eating smart. Our brains often are tricked into thinking we NEED more because we see more. By keeping some of the food off our plate, we are able to better listen to our bodies and make the decision right for us at the time. 


I was reminded by my experience at Tropical Smoothie Cafe that I did NOT need a full wrap and a giant smoothie. All delicious, but I got some serious afternoon sluggishness happening after that! We are doing too much great work to be groggy by 2pm!



What other questions allow you to eat more informed when out and about?






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