Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Busy People can Eat Good! + Olive Garden!

Let me share with you something I used to always throw out at health enthusiasts:

I can't be healthy because I'm just too busy!

Well you know what? I was wrong! :) Celebrate, because there are ways to stay healthy, even with a jam-packed schedule.

Today - since this is such a big subject - I'm going to talk about restaurants. Lots of us health fanatics  like to tell you to "go to your local juice bar" or "check out this raw restaurant in my city"... The grim reality is that many people don't have a local juice bar or a raw/vegan restaurant anywhere near them. I am lucky to have a Natural Foods store with a restaurant, and it's literally 5 minutes away from my house (and if you have these stores/restaurants near you, by all means go to them because you are lucky to have them nearby)! But what if I didn't have this nearby? What would I do in a social situation?

I asked a bunch of my family and friends (mostly here in So Cal) what their favorite restaurants were, and I got so many restaurants. The first three on this list were most popular.
1) Olive Garden
2) Wood Ranch
3) In-n-out
4) Don Jose
5) Mimi's Cafe
6) Cafe Coyote
7) Benihana
8) Ooka
9) Vegetable Delight (vegan cuisine, I believe)
10) Storytellers in Grand Californian (at Disneyland)
11) Greek Meze
12) Akina
13) Bahama Breeze (Florida)
14) Chipotle
15) Spaghetti Factory
16) Life Cafe
17) NYPD
18) La Cocina
19) Acapulco
20) Joyee's (in Chicago)
21) El Indio
22) El Torito
23) Restaurant Koi
24) Shenandoah Cafe
25) Macaroni Grill
26) PF Chang's
27) Angelo's
28) Panda Inn

My new blogging project is to talk about a restaurant and find out ways you can order nutritious vegan and vegetarian choices from the restaurant's menu. I'm very excited now that I have a list going.

Today, I will first talk about my experience that inspired me to do this, and then I will discuss Olive Garden (very popular demand).

My Claim Jumper VEGANIZED Meal
Yesterday evening, I spent some time with my mommy and daddy at Claim Jumper. I slouched and slumped at the menu (yes, I looked at it ahead of time, online) and wondered how the heck I can stay healthy at a place like that! Well, I looked and looked, and I finally found a blogger's site that shared the same frustration as me. She had e-mailed Claim Jumper about vegan menu options, and they e-mailed back a list to her. I printed that list and went to the restaurant, hoping this list would work. For appetizer, we had a Fire-roasted Artichoke with Garlic Aioli (I didn't dip my artichoke in it because it has mayo). For the main course, my parents had salads, but I wanted something warm and delicious. I ordered a baked potato with a side of avocado, corn, black beans, tomato, and vinagrette. SO GOOD. And it was the cheapest main course on the receipt: about $6.49. Not bad for a main course at Claim Jumper. And I was full afterwards! I'm definitely going to remake that potato at home. Maybe you can make it raw by stuffing a zucchini instead, who knows??? :D

Now for Olive Garden:

[ DISCLAIMER OF SORTS: If you have food allergies, always check with the restaurant to be sure your food is free of those allergens. Never trust what you see online (blog, video, etc.) or hear from word of mouth when it comes to your food. I cannot guarantee that the options I provided are 100% dairy free, egg free, meat free, etc. (for example, the marinara may have trace amounts of butter involved in the preparation). ]

Ahh, olive garden. Why must your creamy sauces and perfect pasta and breadsticks be so delicious but so fattening????
So, I took a look at the menu, and here is what I think you can do with it:

*You can order the salad without the cheese. The salad is so delicious, it doesn't even need all that extra stuff. ^_^ And by omitting the buttery croutons and cheese, you make a 90% RAW salad (the black olives in the salad are not raw).

* Ask for a side of roasted veggies with pesto. This is a healthy vegetarian idea. It's tempting to choose the sides with heavy amounts of cheese and butter and bread carbs, but trust me when I say that the more fruits and veggies there are on your plate, the more your body will thank you later.

* Choose a simple, plain marinara from their menu for your pasta. I believe that the best food is the one with pure, unprocessed, and fresh ingredients. The closer you get to that ideal, the better.

* Order the minestrone soup. For lactose-intolerants: you may want to ask if they put any butter or cheese in it (my guess is that they don't). If they do, ask them to omit it and have them use olive oil instead.

* I do believe their Linguine alla Marinara and Capellini Pomodoro is definitely a better option compared to the cream-laden pasta dishes.

* Choose the "Create Your Own Pizza"on the menu. Ask for your desired toppings and request no cheese (or very little cheese if you still wish to incorporate some cheese into your diet).

* Lay low on the breadsticks. If possible, try to avoid them completely. They use processed flour, butter, and cheese - this is fattening, full of empty calories, and more harmful than helpful to the body.

* Dessert: Try asking for fresh fruit in a bowl. If you're not against white sugar, you can drizzle a packet of it onto your fruit and combine well. I personally would ask for honey, because it is healthier and more delicious. Sweetened fruit tastes delicious and is a much better alternative to the cream-laden desserts they offer.

I'm sure there is so much more from the menu that you can VEGANIZE or simply health-ify, and if you or I come up with any other ideas, I will edit them into this post.

Tomorrow - or perhaps Friday (I'll be on the road all day tomorrow cuz I'm on my way to New Mexico to visit my uncle and auntie!) I will continue with the restaurant tips.

So tell me, are there any restaurants I've missed in this post's list? Would you like me to add in a favorite restaurant of yours?

Peace, love, and italian food!

~ Natalyn

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