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How to Understand Menu Language for Healthy Dining

Dieters must know how to translate menu descriptions to yield clues to the fat and calorie contents of a dish. Restaurant portion sizes have more to do with controlling operation expenses than with balancing nutrients. Most restaurants use standardized ladles, spoons, cups, and scoops, and their capacity is generally larger than what you would use at home. Some typical institutional measures are:

  • Salad dressing ladle = 1/4 cup

  • Pat of butter = 2 teaspoons

  • Scoop of ice cream = 1 1/2 to 2 cups

  • Burger = 6 to 8 ounces

  • Meat, poultry, or fish = 8 to 12 ounces

  • Beverages: small = 2 cups, medium = 4 cups, large = 6 cups

  • Theater popcorn: small = 4 cups, large = 10 cups, jumbo = 15 to 20 cups

  • Wine = 6 to 8 ounces

When reading the menu, the “Grande taco salad served in a crispy tortilla shell, topped with lean sautéed ground beef” may sound like a good choice to a dieter. But the words grande, crispy, and sautéed tell you that this is no low-cal salad. In fact, it contains about 700 calories! If you’re restricting your intake to 1,200 calories a day, do you really want to get more than half your calories from a single dish?

Following are the most commonly used menu words that speak volumes — calorically, that is.

Lots of fat:

  • Alfredo

  • Basted

  • Batter-dipped

  • Breaded

  • Buttery

  • Creamy

  • Crispy and crunchy (except when describing raw vegetables)

  • Deep-fried

  • Marinated

  • Pan-fried

  • Rich

  • Sautéed

  • Coated

  • Dressed

  • Dipped

  • Bathed

Huge portion sizes:

  • Combo

  • Feast

  • Grande

  • Jumbo

  • King-size

  • Supreme

Saner sizes:

  • Appetizer

  • Kiddie

  • Luncheon

  • Petite

  • Regular

  • Salad-size

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