25 Tips for Good-for-you Dining Out
Many local restaurants have added healthier versions of appetizer and menu favorites. A few have been onboard all along. Try these tips and dine like your life depends on it.
Try this: Lacinato kale is often used in satisfying salad specials at Republic in Manchester.
Local restaurateur Roi Shpindler and his wife Miri opened Pressed Café in Nashua last summer for the simple reason that they wanted a place to dine where fresh, local produce is the mainstay. It’s the way they dined at home. Now they offer fresh smoothies and juices made with handfuls of spinach or kale for breakfast options, along with breakfast sandwiches or burritos with multi-grain options and local eggs. Good coffee is part of the deal too. Basically, the restaurant is styled like a fast-serve chain, but sauces, soups and other additions are made in-house. The salads are dressed with house-made dressings too, with most of the produce from organic gardens in Hollis. As the Shpindlers say, “Nashua has embraced kale.” And as Martha Stewart says, “It’s a good thing.”
Also in Nashua, award-winning chef Michael Buckley is on-trend, offering lighter foods on the menu. “One-third of the options at Surf are appropriate for a fit lifestyle — seafood with whole grains. I have lightened the menu at MT’s, where it used to be all cream and butter. It’s much leaner now,” he adds.
The good news is just about every restaurant has options. Take the road less traveled and pay a little more for the local beef, eat like a vegan. And, oh yeah, for the most part, skip dessert.
1. Eat like a minimalist
Frankly, just a taste or two of the items on your plate can be satisfying unless you just ran a triathlon. The clean-plate club is rewarded with bloat while the minimalist can shop for a smaller dress size in a few days. Tapas restaurants offer small plates with just-a-bite portions. Try Cava and Moxy in Portsmouth, Candela Tapas Lounge in Hanover, Tavern 27 in Laconia, XO in Manchester, Stella Blu in Nashua or DRAE in Derry for small portions that satisfy. Or just eat less. Plan to take home half of the entrée even before you start. If you have trouble stopping yourself, ask for the to-go box upfront and cut off the portion meant to be enjoyed another day.
Try this: Filthy Short Ribs ($13) braised with balsamic vinegar at DRAE. Succulent, but portion-appropriate.
2. Salads are king
… but proceed with caution. Avoid the creamy dressings; better yet, just stick with oil and vinegar. Look for greens that are more nutritious than iceberg lettuce — spinach, kale and baby greens. Seek out restaurants where salads are creative and interesting, and it won’t be a hardship to have yet another salad. Salads are creative at the Copper Door in Bedford, Moxy in Portsmouth, MT’s Local Kitchen in Nashua and Giorgio’s in Milford. Consider hotel-based restaurants as they also make salad into an art. Corey Fletcher at Granite Restaurant & Bar in Concord creates a dining adventure with local produce. A Latin take on salad at Brazo in Portsmouth offers a piquant Chilean tomato salad with parsley, cilantro and red onion tossed in a basil-lime vinaigrette. Their Farmhouse salad with local greens, fried garbanzo bean, roasted NH mushroom and an egg could be a perfect meal. Who needs Caesar? Try this: Sautéed NH bok choy, grilled red onion, soft Maine polenta, pea shoots ($7) at Moxy.
Try this: Salad presentation by Chef Corey Fletcher of the Granite Restaurant & Bar.
3. Soup is filling
Start with a soup, but not one loaded with cheese or cream. Every restaurant offers a soup selection while there are those that specialize in soup. The Soupery in Portsmouth, Moulton’s Market in Amherst, Seacoast Soups in Hampton and What A Crock at the Pease Tradeport make soup that can qualify as the entire meal for take-out.
4. Choose your protein carefully
Look for grass-fed beef, pastured pork or free-range chicken and eggs. Studies show that the body assimilates naturally raised protein in a more beneficial manner. Find burgers from PT Farm at Six Burner Bistro in Plymouth and Republic in Manchester has steak frites from Little Brook Farm. Local beef is a precious commodity and restaurants like Republic and Joinery in Newmarket minimize the use of beef. Sure, it’s there, but as an accompaniment to vegetables and grains. Joinery has Southern influences and Republic features the tastes of the Mediterranean. Market Table in Hanover sources locally and does an artful job of presenting its thoughtfully inspired entrées.
Try this: Steaks without excessive sauces, like this one from Graze Sustainable Table in New London, not only let the flavor of the meat shine through, but have lower calorie counts.
5. Watch out for hidden sugars
Those tasty-sounding salads with dried fruits and sugared walnuts doused in a sweet vinaigrette are a carbo overload. Sugars are also lurking in many sauces and condiments and run up the calories.
6. Go vegan for a day or for a lifetime
Vegans do it every day, so why not try the options on the menu designed for vegetarian or vegans (no dairy or egg)?
Look for whole grains and avoid white flour pastas. Legends 1291 in Waterville Valley has a vegan corner on the menu for hungry skiers. Blue Mermaid Island Grill and Black Trumpet Bistro in Portsmouth can be accommodating. Take the fish out of sushi and you have vegan sushi. Besides most Japanese restaurants, find it at Delaney’s Hole in the Wall tavern in North Conway. They also serve a variety of Asian options, from miso soup to edamame to fried tofu. Download handy iPhone apps for finding vegan selections in a variety of restaurants, including Is It Vegan, Veganxpress and Vegan is Everywhere. Vegan-only restaurants are few and far between, but offer creative takes on dining without meat, seafood or dairy. A new restaurant, It Is Vegan in Concord, takes the former space of vegan restaurant Spoon Revolution. Susty’s Café in Northwood has offered plant-based food options for 16 years. They are open for lunch and a few nights for dinner. Beans and grains have never been so exalted.
7. Choose fish over beef or pork
Generally speaking, the fats in fish are more beneficial than those in animal fat. Go to quality fish restaurants since fresher fish means no “fishy” taste. Be willing to explore the world of fish beyond fried and white. Two-Fifty Market in Portsmouth, Surf Seafood in Portsmouth and Nashua, and Jumpin’ Jay’s Fish Café are stellar examples of food from the sea, done right. It’s not an accident the best seafood restaurants are near the ocean. It’s expected and the fish can be less than 24 hours from boat to plate. Wild salmon is featured at LaBelle Winery Bistro in Amherst and Moonbeam Café in Lancaster.
Try this: Flax and quinoa crusted haddock with potatoes, asparagus and oven-dried tomatoes with a fennel, watermelon radish and arugula salad ($24) at Surf Seafood in Nashua and Portsmouth.
8. Avoid dessert
Really. You don’t need it. Pick up something out of the candy dish on the way out. If you’re lucky, it’s Andes mints. If you must indulge, split it with another dining minimalist and eat less than half.
9. Go for Certified Local
Visit the website nhfarmtorestaurant.com for a list of restaurants that have passed muster and are truly sourcing local. Local means fresher produce and, in general, more humane conditions for pastured beef and pork, which translates to healthier fats. Plus, local eggs are amazingly better tasting. Republic in Manchester, MT’s Local Kitchen in Nashua, Sugar Hill Inn in Sugar Hill and Local Eatery in Laconia are a few already onboard.
10. Read and substitute
If the dish you are interested in comes with mashed potatoes, ask if they will serve it with a whole grain you might see listed elsewhere on the menu or ask for it to be eliminated. Potatoes in and of themselves are not bad, it’s just the cream and butter to make them succulent that can pack on the pounds.
11. Eat sushi/sashimi
Raw fish, properly prepared, is one of the more healthy options out there. Many Asian restaurants will also substitute brown rice for white rice. Asian restaurants with quality sushi/sashimi include You You Asian Bistro and Takumi Japanese Sushi & Hibachi, both in Nashua. In addition, Mint Bistro in Manchester has a sushi bar option. Shio in Portsmouth, Surf Sushi in Portsmouth and Nashua, Sushi Time in Plaistow, Chen’s Garden in Manchester, Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar in Concord, Dynamite Sushi in Hudson, Moritomo Japanese Steak House & Sushi Bar in Concord are also fine choices to learn about sushi and explore a variety of fish.
Try this: Fresh ahi tuna at You You Asian Bistro (market price)
12. Eat earlier in the day
Go out for lunch, not dinner. The earlier hour will give your body time to burn off the calories. Besides, lunch portions are sometimes smaller. Fine dining restaurants that are open for lunch include The Bedford Village Inn, Epoch Restaurant & Bar in Exeter, Granite Restaurant and Bar in Concord, SALT Kitchen & Bar in New Castle and Two-Fifty Market in Portsmouth. Pickity Place in Mason is only open for lunch, but the five-course menu is fun and filled with sprinkles of herbs from their onsite greenhouse and gardens. Try This: Scottish King Salmon with arugula, fingerling potatoes, tomatoes and haricot vert topped with salsa verde at Granite Restaurant and Bar ($28).
Try this: Salads at Pickity Place in Mason are fresh from their gardens in season.
13. Avoid the entrée
Maybe just an appetizer will do. Besides, they are often more interesting and the presentation will satisfy your eyes. Mussels can be found on many menus and are usually a good choice. Try This: Blue Hill Bay Maine Mussels ($12) with garden herbs and lemon-infused tomatoes at Mombo in Portsmouth Or This: Pulled Moroccan Duck Confit at Luca’s Mediterranean Café in Keene.
Pulled Moroccan Duck Confit at Luca’s Mediterranean Café in Keene.
14. Eat at national chains that list calories
One of the best ways to gauge calorie-for-calorie flavor and satisfaction is to dine where the calories are listed on the menu. First of all, it’s pretty depressing. If you have ever run on a treadmill that shows calories spent, you know collapse will come before 1,208 calories are burned off. You can find all the nutritional information about chain restaurant menu items on their individual websites. Consider it a learning experience or better yet a challenge to put together a meal with only 600 to 700 calories. They often list a steak and then how many calories are in the cheesy bacon sauce that tops it separately. You’ll be armed with the information to make the right decision. (See sidebar on right.)
15. Avoid most national chains
They are often more rigid and don’t allow substitutions, nothing is locally sourced and the food is over-salted and seasoned.
16. Eat at a local chain
Both the Common Man Family of Restaurants and Great American Restaurants (T-Bones, Cactus Jack’s and Copper Door) have initiated lower-calorie menu items. At T-Bones, the In the Pink menu sections are Chef Nicole’s preparation with around 600 calories or less. Her favorite go-to item is chicken tortilla soup at CJ’s with tons of favor and texture, but low in fat and calories. She says, “I team it with a salad for added veggies and, if I’m hitting the gym that day, I’ll add blackened chicken on top.” CEO/owner Tom Boucher’s favorite menu items is Charlie’s Haddock on the T-Bones menu. He tells us, “It is deliciously simple, but healthy. I eat it all the time. It’s named after my Dad, and it is in the top five sellers of more than 100 menu items.”
Try this: The Common Man’s harvest salad with mixed greens tossed with roasted butternut squash, beets, spiced sticky walnuts and an apple cider vinaigrette ($7.99).
17. Go ethnic
Thai or Vietnamese cooking is some of the healthiest cooking on the planet. Try the pho at Vietnam Noodle House or green curry at Giant of Siam, both on Main Street in Nashua. Papaya Thai in Rochester offers a nice selection of curries as does Bai Cha Thai in Hampton. Street 360 in Portsmouth has a fun menu of street vendor food from Latin countries to the Far East. Indira Shelat, chef/owner of Food & Fashion of India in Nashua, prepares delicious vegetarian Indian food for take-out on weekdays. It’s a sure way to discover just how delicious vegetables can be as the main event and how tasty Indian food is when done right. Margarita Grill in Glen offers healthful takes on Mexican food. Café Momo in Manchester for vegetable curries is a curious option for Nepalese food. Sunny’s Table in Concord puts an Asian twist on everything from tacos to salmon to Brussels sprouts. The elegant, but simple preparations at Sunny’s are as healthful as they are beautiful.
Try this: Street 360’s Singapore Salad ($11) with daikon, cucumber, cabbage, carrot, celery, scallion, zucchini, cilantro, mint, Thai basil and peanuts with a sesame ginger dressing. Located in Portsmouth.
18. Skip the cheese
Cheese is very concentrated calories, so a simple cheese sauce can seriously run up the numbers. Forget about the cheesy broccoli soup and look for goat cheese or feta cheese options on salads, for example, as a more health-conscious choice. Try This: Scott Ouellette’s mother Sandy loves the Greenless Greek salad at O Steak & Seafood in Concord and Laconia ($7).
19. Juice it
Sure, you can’t sustain mind and body very long on just juice alone, but pure juice is the quickest boost for your health. The Juice Box in North Hampton, The Juicery in Portsmouth, Live Juice in Concord, Bridge Street Café in Manchester and Pressed Café in Nashua offer great juice combinations when you are looking for a cleanse. Get a green one.
20. Go gluten-free
Almost all restaurants are now onboard with this widespread trend. Even if you don’t have digestive issues, eliminating gluten can lead to better well-being. Some feel that GMOs, used heavily in industrial farming, are creating havoc in our systems.
21. Eat raw oysters
Aside from their purported aphrodisiac qualities, oysters are full of zinc and amino acids. Plus, oyster bars are just plain fun places to visit. Pearl Restaurant & Oyster Bar in Peterborough always has a nice selection of bivalves and the rest of the menu has a healthful Asian bent. Look for midweek Buck-a-Shuck specials at Surf Seafood in Nashua, and Jumpin’ Jay's Fish Café that are offered periodically. Other oyster options include Hanover Street Chophouse and Hooked Seafood Restaurant in Manchester and Library Restaurant in Portsmouth. Coming this summer is Row 34, a world-class restaurant featuring seafood and oysters in a contemporary industrial-chic space in Portsmouth’s Portwalk Place.
22. Embrace the artful presentation
Food that is beautiful is somehow more satisfying. Some chefs take that art to the stratosphere. Dining at Stages at One Washington is an exercise in stretching your imagination instead of your stomach. Chef Evan Hennessey uses food like a painter uses his medium — with extreme thought. How many calories can there be in a foam anyway? Embrace it. Chef Chris Noble of bluAqua Restaurant and Bar in Amherst has been known to play with the imagination too, especially at a wine dinner. Artful presentations are often found at hotel restaurants, including Pine at the Hanover Inn.
Try this: Pork tenderloin as presented at Pine at the Hanover Inn.
23. Visit a co-op store
Eat in or take out at the co-op grocery stores in Littleton, Keene, Concord and Hanover. Steam table offerings are made fresh using the organic products for sale at the store. Whole Foods in Nashua offers similar fare.
Try this: Healthy and filling fare from the Concord Food Co-op.
24. Eat where health is the mission
Blue Moon Evolution in Exeter is Kath Gallant’s extension of her original health food store/café. Several years ago she re-envisioned the space to promote locally sourced and healthful dining in a relaxed atmosphere. Gallant, along with her executive chef, Ted McCormack, has a passion for offering healthy choices for everything from their seasonal soups to vegan options to local seafood. They even offer a healthy poutine and creative healthy choices for kids. This place is a real jewel. Moonbeam Café in Lancaster (re-opening in spring 2015) is owned by a hospital nutritionist. Country Life in Keene is a vegan buffet-style salad bar run by Seventh-day Adventists, open for lunch daily except Saturday and dinner only on Thursdays. Soups are from scratch, entrées are meatless and the bread is cultured spelt made on the premises. Nature’s Green Grocer Café is nestled in the natural food market in West Peterborough within steps of a babbling brook. Find all kinds of tasty, healthy options in their deli case. P.S., you can buy kombucha tea by the half-gallon jug too. Flatbread Company in North Conway, Portsmouth and Hampton offers a limited menu, but focuses on the healthiest versions of pizza and organic salads. Zeppelin & Kaleidoscope in Marlborough is a café focusing on vegan and vegetarian soups, salads and wraps. All Real Meal is a home delivery service for nutritious food in individual portions or family servings to the Manchester/Bedford/Portsmouth areas. Here’s a surprise: Food trucks can be more than a comfort food oasis. The Farm Concessions based out of Keene is a roving food truck offering seasonal, vegetarian and vegan options. They are usually located at 100 Emerald St., but check their Facebook page for travels to fairs or other events.
25. Find raw chocolate
All the goodness in most chocolate is overshadowed by the sugar and processing. Raw chocolate in dessert is one place the health benefits may shine through. Good Karma Café in Exeter not only offers healthy casual dining options for lunch and dinner, but they have chocolate in the raw.
Alicia Rossman RD, LD, CLT
Eat This, Not That: Tips From a Nutritionist
Tips from Alicia Rossman RD, LD, CLT, a local nutrition and wellness educator at Concord Hospital:
- Eat at local restaurants and ask for a smaller portion size.
- Avoid chains that over-serve portion sizes. Remember that recommended portion sizes for protein are 3 to 4 ounces.
- Eat in moderation and, if you are struggling with choices, then work with a local dietician to find healthy restaurant choices you will enjoy.
- Light sauces, not creamy ones like Alfredo
- Baked, not fried anything
- Fresh herbs, spices and citrus juices, not heavy cheesy toppings
- Steamed vegetables, not white pastas or white rice — ask for substitutions
- Baked potatoes or sweet potatoes, not mashed potatoes that are loaded with cream and butter
- Whole grains, not white rice – Look for quinoa or farro
- Oil and vinegar, not creamy dressings
- Ask for salad dressing on the side
- Dark, leafy greens, not the iceberg wedge with bacon and blue cheese
- Plain nuts, not sugared nuts, especially on salads
- Eat mindfully