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How to Order Anywhere, Plus Pasta Salad Slim-Downs!
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How to Order Anywhere, Plus Pasta Salad Slim-Downs!

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05.09.12
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Hi HG,

What should I do if a restaurant doesn't have nutritional information available on its website? How do I really know what I'm eating there?

Fishin' for Nutrition

Hi Fishin',

Although more and more restaurants are posting nutrition info online, there are still plenty that don't. (Get with the times, restaurant people!) If you encounter one of these places, here are some survival strategies...

Scope out the menu online ahead of time, if possible. Even if it doesn't include nutritionals, it can help you plan ahead and make smarter choices once you get to the restaurant. If you see that guilt-free options are limited, you can prepare by eating a little lighter earlier in the day.

Really read the menu. Those descriptions offer up some pretty useful info. Avoid anything with words like "fried," "crusted," and "sautéed," and skip dishes with cheese and cream-based sauces. Scan the menu for safer items -- typically ones that say "grilled," "steamed," "broiled," and "baked." If you can't figure out how something is cooked based on the menu description, just ask.

Look for dishes with lean protein as the main component. These are generally safer than starch-based meals, like pastas and sandwiches. Salads can go either way, so you really have to look at all the ingredients -- watch out for crunchy fried toppings, candied nuts, and loads of cheese; and always get the dressing on the side (dip, don't pour!).

Pass on the freebies; order an app instead. Buttered rolls and greasy tortilla chips are no way to start a meal. But that doesn't mean you can't indulge in an appetizer. Opt for shrimp cocktail, a cup of broth-based soup, or a side salad.

Special order. Ask your server (nicely) if you can skip the starchy side that comes with your entrée and get veggies instead. Be careful with grilled veggies -- they're often covered in a shiny coating of oil. If you want to play it safe, order them steamed, without butter, and sauce-free.

Now you can tackle any restaurant the HG way. Best of luck!

Hey Hungry Girl,

I know you have a ton of pasta swaps. Have you ever tried them in pasta salads? And how bad are the pasta salads found in the deli section at the supermarket?

Noodle Chewer

Hi Noodle Chewer,

Great Qs... especially given that cookout season is upon us, and pasta salads are a big part of that. But you're right to be wary -- the average pasta salad has about 360 calories and 20g fat per CUP! Even if it's not covered in a creamy sauce, it's most likely tossed in an oily dressing. And although there may be veggies involved, it's still mainly made up of carby, calorie-dense noodles. So what's a pasta-salad-loving human to do? DIY!

One easy option is to use high-fiber pasta, but just use less of it. You'll still get that pasta salad vibe, even if half of the dish is made up of veggies... and you'll save MAJOR calories. FiberGourmet Light Pasta is my top pick, with EIGHTEEN grams of fiber per serving. But it's not the easiest to find in stores. (You'll probably have to order online.) Whatever fiber-packed noodles you choose, bulk up your dish with lots, and I mean LOTS, of chopped veggies -- tomatoes (fresh, canned fire-roasted, pouched sun-dried, etc.), peppers (roasted red peppers are phenomenal in pasta salad), artichoke hearts (packed in water, not oil), and more.

My latest favorite pasta swap for pasta salad? Zucchini ribbons! You don't even need to cook 'em. Just hack off the ends of a zucchini, and use a veggie peeler to peel it into super-thin strips; rotate the zucchini while peeling it to yield a width similar to fettuccine. We have a recipe coming up later this month that you will FLIP for! Stay tuned for that...

As for dressings, skip the full-fat bottles on shelves. Look for fat-free and light ones (click here for my favorites!), or whip up your own: Use seasoned rice vinegar or balsamic vinegar for vinaigrette-style bases, and start with fat-free sour cream or mayo (or both!) for creamy ones. Make sure to let your pasta salad sit in the fridge for at least an hour so everything gets completely chilled and soaks up the flavor of the dressing.

Ready for some recipes? Click here for HG's Picnic-Perfect Pasta Salad, and click here for our Creamy Dreamy Macaroni Salad. If you own Hungry Girl 1-2-3, check out the BLT Pasta Salad.

Happy chewing!

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May (a.k.a. this month) is National Gazpacho Aficionado Month. Gazpacho is a cold soup made from chopped raw vegetables. Popular ingredients include tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and onions. Now go impress your friends...

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