Hungry Runner was born out of my love for both food and fitness. Being passionate about both is tough sometimes. Of course I’d love to eat mac-and-cheese-topped hot dogs every day, but I know such a meal wouldn’t provide my body with what it needs to fuel a six-mile run or a Tabata workout at the gym. (Darn!)
So what’s a foodie to do? And how can we all enjoy the outstanding (and sometimes downright, over-the-top decadent) dishes that so many restaurant chefs have to offer while still maintaining a wholesome diet? Well, it might not be an easy feat to conquer, but I learned a lot about food and some great New York City restaurants at the Village Voice Choice Eats event last night and I’ve got some answers for you!
Rule Number 1: Maintain a whole-foods, clean eating diet on a consistent, daily basis.
I know, right now you’re like, “But that has nothing to do with eating out.” But actually… Yes, yes it does. For example, yesterday I made banana oatmeal for breakfast, ate some nuts for a mid-morning snack, had some Split Red Lentil Veggie Chili (that I had prepped earlier in the week) for lunch, and then a blueberry smoothie after my workout, all in anticipation of letting myself indulge at Choice Eats later on in the day. So what I’m saying is, if you eat cleanly and treat your body right for the majority of your meals, it’s less detrimental to let yourself indulge and stray from your typical diet when dining out.
Best Choice Eats Over-the-Top Indulgence: Mac-and-cheese-topped hot dog, AKA a “Ditch Dog,” from Ditch Plains.
This was the first thing I sampled at Choice Eats. I was looking forward to checking out Ditch Plains for the sea food side of their menu, but when I saw this at their booth I was like, “Ohhh, I knew there was a reason I’d love this place.” This creation reminds me of being in high school and just eating whatever the heck you want, whenever the heck you want. While we can’t all do that forever (sad face), there’s certainly an occasional, every-now-and-then time for it. So when the opportunity arises, let your inner seventeen-year-old seize and enjoy the moment!
Rule Number 2: Order a side of veggies.
“Eat your veggies!” I sound like your mom. Or if you are a mom, I sound like you, talking to your kids. Whatever the case, you know moms are always right (just admit it already), and therefore I am right too. Whenever you have the choice, try swapping the typical side of french fries with some vegetables. This probably won’t be offered to you, so you’ll have to ask and everyone else at the table might roll their eyes at you, but who cares. They’re just jealous that you’re so awesome and healthy. Vegetables are nutrient dense but low in calories, and they are typically high in fiber, which means they will keep you feeling fuller and more satisfied for longer. Oh! And if you want to be extra, super healthy, order an entirely vegetable-centered dish.
Best Choice Eats Use of Vegetables: Tomato Cake from Dirt Candy.
Dirt Candy is a vegetarian restaurant, so if you decide to eat here (you’ll need to make a reservation waaaay ahead of time), you have no choice but to eat your veggies. The tomato cake was made with smoked feta cheese in tomato leather topped with tomato and a basil vinaigrette. This is a super popular restaurant in New York City right now, and after tasting this, I completely understand why. Amanda Cohen, the owner and head chef, isn’t so much into veggies for their health benefits nor is she a vegetarian herself, but her menu is totally turning more people on to vegetables (they can taste good!) and I’m so down with that!
Rule number 3: Do your research.
Explore new eateries! Use the Internet (such a cool new invention!) and tools like Romio or Yelp to find out about different restaurants and what they have to offer. Keep an eye out for businesses that place an emphasis on using fresh, local produce and whole food ingredients. These types of restaurants are much more likely to truly care about the quality of the food they’ll serve you and there’s a greater chance of knowing exactly how your meal will be prepared. Also, take a look at the menu online before you go. Weigh out your options and pinpoint a few of the healthier dishes so you have an idea of what you’re going to order and won’t be tempted to stray towards the less-healthy dishes.
Best Choice Eats Use of Local Produce: “Ooey Gooey” Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream from Ample Hills Creamery.
Of course, Ice Cream isn’t the most wholesome of foods. But, like I’ve said in the past, there’s food that’s good for the body, and there’s food that’s good for the soul. As far as I’m concerned, you need both to be healthy and have a healthy relationship with food. And ice cream is definitely good for the soul. Especially ice cream like the kind you’ll find at Ample Hills. The kind that uses homemade ingredients and fresh dairy products. No icky food additives or artificial ingredients here!
-Runners up for Best use of Local Produce-
Try their Red Wine Egg (Healthiest dish I found at Choice Eats!)
Ruler number 4: Try new things.
Just because you’ve never heard of it before, doesn’t mean you won’t like it. I’m actually totally guilty of ordering the same dishes at the same restaurants time and time again. Which is fine sometimes. We all love our favorite foods. But come on, branch out! Add some variety to your diet! Don’t let the unknown (and maybe sometimes exotic) name of a healthier dish deter you from giving it a shot. If you’re not sure, ask the waiter or waitress, chances are they know a thing or two about the menu and can give you an honest, first hand opinion.
Best Choice Eats Use of Alternative Foods: The Farro Walnut “Burger” from Del Posto.
I had never heard of farro (which is a whole grain) until trying this wonderful little faux “burger” from Del Posto last night. Turns out, when you mix it with it chick peas, caramelized onions, and walnuts to create a meat-less version of a good old, American hamburger, it’s pretty darn good! Del Posto is a classic Italian restaurant, and this particular item isn’t on their menu, but I’m just saying, it totally should be
Rule Number 5: Avoid “Clean Plate Syndrome”
Confession: I totally suffer from Clean Plate Syndrome. When good food is placed in front of me, I want to eat it all, and I want to eat it all now. But I’m working on that, because part of maintaining truly healthy eating habits means stopping when you’re full, even if there’s more food left on your plate. Learn to practice mindful eating. Eat slowly, enjoy every bite, and listen to your body. Typically it takes the stomach about 20 minutes to get the “I’m full” message to the brain. Try eating half of your meal, taking a breather for a few minutes or so, and then finishing it only if you decide that you’re still hungry. If you’re full, ask for a take out box and enjoy the rest as leftovers the next day.
And a sub-rule of rule number 5: If you want to order dessert, exercise the same portion control caution. Eat only some of it or share it with a few others at the table.
Best Choice Eats use of Portion Control: All of the bakeries and their mini sweets!
I’m just saying, dessert should always be miniature, that way you can have a little bite of EVERYTHING! Pictured above, top left we have the “S’moregasm” from S’more Bakery. Middle left is a “Honey Chocolate Blondie” from Ovenly. Bottom left, a Strawberry Balsamic Cheesecake Bite from Bite Me Cheesecakes, and right, the cutest cupcakes you ever did see from Butter Lane. ( I tried their “Elvis” cupcake, which was a banana cupcakes with peanut butter frosting… Perfection!)
-Other Awesome Things I Ate-
Best Dessert Overall: “Drunkey Monkey” Banana Cream pie from The Blue Stove.
Best Grilled Cheese: “Pop’s Original” (smoked gouda, honey mustard & tomato) from Mrs. Dorsey’s Kitchen.
Best Alternative Dessert: Rice Pudding & Fruit Compote from Liddabit Sweets.
Best Pizza: “Rotini Roll” (Tito’s vodka sauce, fresh mozz’, spicy pepperoni, and Thai basil) from Pete Zaaz.
Best Surprise Appearance from my Favorite Peanut Butter Brand: Peanut Butter & Co.
Thanks to the Village Voice for putting the event together and to all of the amazing New York City restaurants that showed up and sampled their food!