Trusting Restaurant Calorie Counts, Plus Dairy-Free Finds!

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Hi HG,

My favorite local restaurant has a light section of its menu that lists the calories for each entrée. I LOVE these dishes, but I'm a little suspicious that the calorie counts are too good to be true... especially since the portion sizes and sauces can be pretty inconsistent. How do I know if I can trust the numbers?

Dining-Out Doubts

Hi Dining-Out Doubts,

Thanks for writing in! You're probably right to question the accuracy of those calorie counts... If something seems too good to be true, then it probably IS too good to be true. The nutritional outcome of your meal really depends on who's in the kitchen making it that day. The calorie count on the menu might represent a 6-oz. steak sautéed with 2 tsp. oil, but Carl the cook might grab an 8-oz. filet and cover it with 2 tbsp. oil... or MORE. Bottom line? If the menu claims a dish has a relatively low calorie count but it comes out looking extra large, oily, buttery, etc., it's probably higher in calories than the menu says. In general, well-known chains are more likely than mom-n-pop restaurants to serve up standardized portions made with set ingredient amounts. And while it's still up to the person in the kitchen, the big chains tend to be a little more insistent that their employees follow the recipes to a tee.

While there are some aspects of dining out that are beyond your control, there ARE things you can do to make these meals as guilt-free as possible. Request sauces on the side. This way, you can check out the amount and the consistency before it's added to your food. Creamy sauces are generally riskier than tomato-based ones, even if they are on the light menu. Go for lean proteins that are broiled, baked, or grilled... not sautéed, breaded, or fried. And if your meal comes with heavy starches, consider ordering steamed veggies instead. You can also request that the cook go "easy on the oil" or skip the butter, if there's any in the dish.

For more helpful ordering strategies, click here for HG's Ultimate Dining Out Survival Guide. It's packed with tips and tricks you can use when calorie counts aren't available. Now you're all set for a guilt-free dining-out experience!

Hi Hungry Girl,

I recently found out that I'm lactose intolerant. Not happy about it! Do you know of any product finds that are dairy-free, guilt-free, AND delicious?

Adios Lactose

Hi Adios Lactose,

Sorry to hear about your recent dairy discovery. The good news is that there are plenty of fantastic no-guilt finds for lactose avoiders! Check 'em out...

Creamy Confections… Listen up, yogurt lovers! Yoplait (known for its incredibly delicious stuff) has a line that's lactose-free AND 99% fat-free. Score! Each 6-oz. container has 170 calories and 1.5g fat (PointsPlus® value 4*). Also impressive? Silk Dairy-Free Fruity & Creamy, a yogurt alternative made with soymilk. The 5.3-oz. containers each have 140 - 150 calories and 3 - 3.5g fat (PointsPlus® value 4*). And then there's Kozy Shack's Lactose Free Pudding in Chocolate, Rice, and Tapioca -- only 120 - 130 calories and 3 - 3.5g fat per 4-oz. container (PointsPlus® value 3 - 4*). This stuff ROCKS.

Milking It… Soymilk isn't the only alternative for dairy ditchers. There are milk drinks made from almonds, flax, coconut, and more. My most recent find is So Delicious Dairy Free Unsweetened Cashew Milk Beverage -- only 35 calories and 3.5g fat per cup (PointsPlus® value 1*), and it's so creamy and yummy! Click here for a GREAT roundup of low-calorie milk swaps. Like a little creamer in your coffee? Check out Coffee-mate's nondairy creamers (I like the sugar-free powdered options). So Delicious Dairy Free Barista Style Original Coconut Milk Creamer is another favorite -- each tablespoon has only 10 fat-free calories (PointsPlus® value 0*). Just measure out those liquid creamers to avoid over-pouring, because the stats DO add up.

Say Cheese... GO Veggie! (formerly Galaxy Veggie) has a huge array of cheesy products that are either lactose-free or dairy-free. Choose from shreds, slices... even Parm-style grated topping! The calorie and fat counts are comparable to regular reduced-fat cheeses. I also LOVE Lisanatti Foods The Original Almond Cheeze. (Heads up: While it's meant for lactose-intolerant folks, it does contain some milk protein.) The stats on that almond cheese are pretty incredible -- an ounce has just 50 - 63 calories and 1 - 3g fat (PointsPlus® value 1 - 2*). And it tastes great!

Dairy-Free Desserts… Between the almond-milk-based ice cream swaps and the coconut-milk freezy sweets, the good people at So Delicious have got you covered. Some of these treats are a little high in fat, so just read the labels carefully. My top guilt-free picks are the Minis: portion-controlled fudge bars and sandwiches in incredible flavors, like Banana Split! Each of those Banana Split Minis has only 100 calories and 3.5g fat (PointsPlus® value 2*). Yay!

Now you've got plenty of lactose-free finds to add to your grocery list... Enjoy!

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