You are down 75 pounds.
Your friends call you and want you to go to lunch.
A bead of sweat streams down the side of your face.
You haven't really eaten with anybody at a 'normal' restaurant.
What do you do?
- Olive Garden. When you’re here, your family, right?
Well…if your family consists of robust eaters and is headed by a mother who CONSTANTLY thinks you’re too thin (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary) and therefore insists on plying you with pasta, butter, olive oil and breadsticks…yes…that is very, very true.
For the rest of us, we kinda feel like that odd duck in the family who never quite fits in and thus fakes a cold to get out of family gatherings.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! You too can be part of the family at Olive Garden even after weight loss surgery and I’m going to show you how. For a downloadable version of this restaurant guide click here. For Olive Garden’s complete nutrition information, click here.
The BasicsIn the interest of full disclosure I should say I’m not the biggest Olive Garden fan. Sure, I love Italian food as much as the next person, but I am starting to get annoyed with restaurants that continue to insist on ostracizing their healthy choices. I don’t understand why there has to be a special “menu insert” or a special section of the menu with healthier options. Yes, I know for some of us this makes them easier to find, but it also outs us as “away from the norm…” and I don’t like that. If healthy choices were integrated into a menu that has nutrition information for ALL its choices (and maybe some symbol that indicates it is low-fat, carb, etc.) I think I’d feel better about the whole thing.
My other beef with Olive Garden, newly developed from researching this piece, is that they give every piece of nutritional information on a food EXCEPT the protein count. Argh! In my notes below, I attempt to guestimate the protein count on my suggestions, but please be aware that those proposed numbers are NOT from the Olive Garden website. K?
What to Avoid
This is a good place to start because there are a few pitfalls just in how Olive Garden handles serving you food. In the world of non-ops, these same things are probably good, can save them calories and money. For us? Not so much.
So let’s talk about unlimited salad and breadsticks.I heart breadsticks with the passion of a thousand infernos. BELIEVE ME when I say it pains me to say this but…if I were you, I’d skip them. If you’re going with a date who is also health conscious you can simply ask not to have breadsticks. If you are with a big group, make sure you push that bread basket as far away from your physical person as possible. They fill you up with carbs and fat and don’t leave much room for protein. Plus, if you’re like me, they make your tummy hurt.
The salad is a trickier thing. Cuz it’s salad, right? I won’t say avoid the salad. It provides some good veggies, some crunch and it’s just plain yummy. BUT if you know you have a small pouch capacity and your enjoyment of salad would impede getting your necessary protein, I’d say you might want to either minimize your salad intake OR wait until your food comes to get any salad so you can get your protein in before munching down.
DO NOT…and I do mean DO NOT attempt to do an “all you can eat salad” situation. There is no such thing as all you can eat for most post-ops. It shouldn’t be a school of thought to which you subscribe. Not now. Not ever. Period.
Good Menu Choices
So let’s get into the “meat” of what’s available, shall we? I’m organizing my suggestions somewhat around eating phase.
If you are in the full liquids phase…
Olive Garden has several soup choices that would work. Their minestrone is both tasty and very reasonable at 100 calories. My sense from reading the ingredients is that it is not terribly protein heavy but at this stage of eating, there is little on the menu that will give you the protein that you’d ordinarily look for in a serving of food. One warning. Since the minestrone has veggies and since you are new out, it will likely fill you up…for only 100 calories. At this stage in the game, that’s not necessarily a good thing so I personally would go for something that is a bit more splurg-y, like…
The chicken and gnocchi soup. It is 250 calories. While the protein content on soup is hard to measure, I will say that at this point, you should probably pick out the gnocchi which would lower the caloric content a little.
For you chicken eaters….
There are actually a few really good choices on the “Garden Fare” menu (grrrr….).
The Venetian Apricot Chicken sounds good. I’ve never tasted it so I had to do some consult with my good friend who is a self-proclaimed Olive Garden officianado. She claims to have tried EVERYTHING on the menu. She endorses this dish. I don’t know from their stats how much sugar is in the dish though. I know there is fruit but sometimes chefs add sugar to bump up the fruit factor. Ask your server to find out for you. Otherwise, this dish is served in lunch (280 calories) or dinner (380 calories) portions. From the serving size I’d guess the total dish probably has somewhere around 25-30g of protein in the lunch portion, 30-40g in the dinner portion.
The Grilled Chicken Spiedini also seems a good choice. It’s skewered chicken marinated in Italian herbs and olive oil (I assume extra virgin) with grilled vegetables. The dish is 420 calories and, I’d guess about 30g of protein total. This also seems to be the dish with the lowest amount of sodium at 990 mg. Notice that both of these dishes come WITHOUT pasta. That’s important. Many of us just can’t handle pasta. It’s heavy and doesn’t really benefit us that much.
For the seafood lover in you…
The Seafood Brodetto is what I get on the rare occasion that I let myself be talked into going to Olive Garden. I actually like it a lot. It has 480 calories for the entire serving and is made of scallops, shrimp and tilapia in a spinach and mushroom white wine sauce with marinara-saffron broth. That all is from the website. I have no conception of marinara saffron broth nor do I care. All I know is it is good and every time I’ve gotten it, all the proteins are fairly tender. I’ve never had an “episode” with this dish. And that’s saying something as my pouch is as big a diva as my daughters are.
There is also a very nice looking herb grilled salmon that clocks in at 510 calories, 760mg sodium and, I’d guess, about 30g protein from the portion they show on the website.
My mom loves the mussels at Olive Garden. They are 180 calories. I am not sure on the protein on them, but thought they were worth noting.
Beef and pork people…
I poured over the menu looking for a lower calorie choice. Sigh…The lowest calorie thing I found was the Beef Toscano. For the dish it is 590 calories, but has 20g of fat and, get this, 1,460mg of sodium! (Keep in mind most of these dishes have a good bit of sodium. Drink a lot of water on the day you go to Olive Garden and stay the hell away from the scale the next day, k?) I don’t recommend anything with pork in it from Olive Garden. All the dishes pack a full days worth of calories and fat. Granted, you’ll only be able to eat a bit of it, but here’s the deal. To me, while restaurant food does provide more than one meal, if restaurant food is supposed to be a treat in moderation, I have a hard time seeing how eating it for the next six days accomplishes that. Your mileage may vary.
If you absolutely MUST have some pasta…
I will point out that the kid’s menu has a nifty little grilled chicken pasta with broccoli. It’s 310 calories and seems a reasonable portion. If you have a card from your surgeon’s office explaining your eating requirements, you might have to present it to order this dish for yourself.
Don’t do it. That is all.
Wait…no it’s not. Two reasons (besides the obligatory RNY warning about dumping syndrome). First, many post-ops can attest to the fact that dessert works differently after surgery. Dessert is not the end of a meal. It is a meal in and of itself. That being the case, I’d much rather you come home and make a nice low-cal dessert or even a yummy protein dessert than indulge in any of their offerings.
They have the coffee, tea, diet soda, water combo. Yawn. They do have specialty espressos that come unflavored. That could be good, especially if your plan has a daily caffeine allowance. As always, I remind my RNY readers that your window for drinking is relatively short. Basically when you first sit down until your food comes, drink all you want. After you start eating, stop drinking!
So there you have it…the low-down on Olive Garden. I must admit there are a few more choices than I thought there were so maybe I’ll stop being so Olive Garden resistant. Maybe.
Taken from Bariatric Foodie
- If this trendy chain restaurant hasn’t reached your area yet, I would seriously consider phoning them and asking them why???
It’s one of my favorite post-op restaurant choices. Why? Well, first off, it’s called a “Chinese Bistro.” Now to the naked eye that doesn’t look significant at all, but a Chinese Bistro. A bistro is a French concept for a “small restaurant that traditionally serves bread and wine.” So for P.F. Changs, with their famous lettuce wraps, sleek plateware, dim environment (that makes you feel like you’re out to a romantic dinner even if you show up at noon) to call itself a bistro??? That, in and of itself, makes it awesome.
But the food…oh the food…that just takes it to another level. In this edition of “Pouch Party™ Peeks” we’re going to take a look at the food and see what’s worth checking out, what to leave alone and the many, many reasons you should check out P.F. Chang’s (if you haven’t already!).
The first thing I like about P.F. Chang’s is the servers. I’ve been there more times post-op than I can count (when I go out to eat, which is rarely, it is usually to P.F. Chang’s) and my servers have:
Always been polite and served me well although my meal rarely amounts to more than $10.
Never sweated me when I asked them NOT to serve me rice at all (and actually made sure it happened).
Never looked crossways when I sent a plate to be packed looking virtually untouched (although they did ask, just once, if everything was ok. When I assured them it was and that I had just gotten full, that’s where the inquiry ended).
Never pressured me to take water I did not want with my meal!
So that is always encouraging for us post-ops. Now, I don’t want you to think I’m just bragging on my local P.F. Chang’s. In addition to the four I have within 30 minutes driving distance, I’ve also visited them in New Jersey, New York, Chicago and Arizona. All with the same level of service.
Now let’s get to the menu. And by the way, you can find their full nutritional information by visiting their website.
I highlight this first because when we first sit down to a table is our only opportunity to experience beverages. The turn around time on the food isn’t terribly long, so you sort of have to do the beverage thing, if you’re going to do the beverage thing, as soon as you get there.
This is where I think this restaurant shines. First off, they have more than just the normal “soda, wine, beer” triumvirate.
In fact, they have a selection of wonderful flavored decaf teas that come in a little, ancient looking ceramic pot with the cutest little 3 oz. teacups. Perfect for folks who need to sip slowly. I HIGHLY recommend the Sweet Ginger Peach Decaf. The smell is divine. The taste is much better. My server knows now to bring me lots of Splenda and that if he lets me savor the taste of the tea for a few extra moments before taking my order, he will be handsomely rewarded. You have to establish that kind of relationship with your server, you know…
Moving along, they also have very nice decaffeinated iced teas as well. So the point here is that you have choices that aren’t water or diet soda (both of which I find less than stellar choices frankly. Your mileage may vary.)
More and more restaurants are integrating heartier choices into their appetizer menu and calling them “small plates” menus. I think this is admirable so long as there are both healthy and indulgent choices. Personally, when I go to P.F. Chang’s I do one of two things food-wise. I either order a few things from the small plate menu (and share them usually) or I skip it and just order my entrée (without rice).
Here’s three solid choices on the small plate menu:
You CANNOT go to this restaurant and not try the lettuce wraps. I don’t care if you go for the chicken or the vegetarian, this savory appetizer is a MUST try! It comes with four Iceberg lettuce leaves and a delicious concoction of either chicken or tofu mixed with water chestnuts and some sauce I cannot figure out for the life of me or else I’d make it at home!
The amount needed to fill each lettuce cup (which, incidentally, is the amount I’d say it takes to make a person 4 months out or less completely full) is about 140 calories, 8g of protein. It’s a bit high on the sodium (650 mg) for the amount of food you are eating (especially if you put their special sauce on there…I’ll get to that in a minute) but so long as you aren’t eating there every day, I don’t see why you can’t indulge every now and again.
Seared Ahi Tuna
This is a slightly pan-seared sushi-grade tuna (which is code for: you can actually chew it successfully) and it is GOOD. It’s about 160 calories, 10g protein and comes with a sauce that adds about 50 calories to the deal if you want to try it.
Newbie Best Bet: The Wonton Soup
This soup has the most protein and the least sodium, just skip the wonton noodles. It only comes in bowl form, which I don’t like but if enough of us request a cup, who knows? It might happen! It’s 92 calories, 7g of protein for each 7 oz serving, but the bowl is 32 oz. So for now, here’s my advice. Get the soup, ask for a cup sized bowl. Ladle yourself out what you can eat and go to town!
BONUS: Sensible Splurge: Spring Rolls
With 156 calories, 17g of carbs and 2g of fiber, if you want a splurge, I’d highly recommend this one. Beware if you’re newer out. Spring rolls are filled with steamed veggies that might not be kind to your system.
Like I said above, I have a tendency to either order a few of the starters or just my entrée and, again, I request it without rice. The nice thing about “Chang’s” is that they don’t give you mega-portions. Well…that comes with a caveat. To post-ops, especially newbies, most anything seems like a mega-portion. But in the “real world” the portions at this restaurant are quite healthy.
Here’s a three solid choices (and one splurge) from the entrees:
I’ve only gotten this once and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. This dish is a shrimp dish that is served in a light garlic sauce. Their plate is 2 servings, each of which have 200 calories and 21g of protein!
Moo Goo Gai Pan
Chicken, shrimp, mushrooms and veggies. How can you go wrong? The only thing I find wrong with their chicken selections is that most of them have sneaky sugar sources in the sauces, but this is a fairly safe choice. A plate is 3 servings, each of which are 247 calories, 18g protein. I personally go for the Dali Chicken, myself, which is relatively low-cal but also THE spiciest dish on the menu. So…most of you…don’t get that…
This is where the menu gets a little dicey. The steamed Buddha’s feast, a concoction of veggies in a savory sauce, is lowest in calories (220 to be precise, with 14g of protein). but has an ASTRONOMICAL amount of sodium in it. There isn’t enough water in the world to soak up that much sodium. The coconut curry veggies are the highest in protein (22g) but also the highest in calories per serving (520). My advice for vegetarians: go for the lettuce wraps on the small plate menu. In this scenario, it’s hard to win.
BONUS: Sensible Splurge
I would actually label those Coconut Curry Vegetables as a sensible splurge. They are quite delicious: smooth, creamy curry sauce over veggies. It’s so decadent you won’t miss the rice at all.
This, of course, is a fancy word for “add-ons.” Since they can call themselves a bistro, I can call their add-ons “accoutrements.” That’s just how it goes!
Rice: I usually skip it but it’s noteworthy that they offer whole grain, brown rice and that you don’t have to special request it. They ask you which kind you want when you order.
Sauce: If you tell the server it’s your first time there, they will show you the deal with the sauces. If not, it’s sort of like the seven seashells set up in the movie “Demolition Man.” You feel like you’re the only one that doesn’t get it. Main point here: moderation! Lots of sodium in that stuff but a little can enhance most any dish there.
Dessert: Further-outs have pointed out to me in the past that I usually neglect to go over dessert options. This is true. I don’t routinely order dessert out but it is noteworthy that Chang’s has the most adorable little mini-dessert portions, served in shot glasses. They are a few selections from their larger dessert menu, just reduced in size! They range from 130-220 calories per dessert, so if you have one it’s not the end of the world. But I’m not going into any more detail about it.
So there you have it…your guide to exploring P.F. Chang’s. Next time you go to dinner, try it out!
Taken from Bariatric Foodie
- Ah Denny’s…great American slinger o’ pancakes! What have you to offer me, the surgically altered, health conscious, slightly carb-phobic post-op???
You’d be surprised.
Denny’s has come up a bit in the world from its roots as a culturally insensitive greasy spoon. I can say that I eat there at least once every two months (and if the divas had it their way, it’d be once every two days).
So here’s our peek at Denny’s: what to order, what to avoid and what to convince your spouse to get so you can have approximately one bite of it!
This is the foundation of the Denny’s menu and there are a lot of choices. Many of them are not very good. Some look ok from a protein perspective (like steak and eggs for example) until you look at how they are cooked (in copious amounts of butter and oil).
So what’s a post-op to do? Well…first you have to get a bit high maintenance. Denny’s does have “Fit Fare” choices on the menu, but I find it’s often stuff I don’t like very much, so I err on the side of ordering something from the traditional menu and swapping some things out. You go with what feels right for you. Here’s some favorites of mine.
Senior Omelette w/ egg whites, chicken sausage and veggies
I don’t know why folks think the senior portion needs to be smaller. In my family, the older you are, the more you tend to eat. But I digress. This omelet is made with two eggs instead of there (although the regular omelet seems like it is made out of six). I get egg whites because they stopped offering egg substitute. At home I make my omelet with one egg white + one whole egg (I like my omelet to be yellow) but try that in Denny’s and…you’re never quite sure if you are getting all the eggs or what you asked for.
Senior Grand Slam
I get this and make some modifications. I usually ask for fruit instead of toast (and extra points if they have melon, which I like very much), or cottage cheese (which I gladly pay extra for). I get my eggs either as egg whites that are scrambled in cooking spray (and I ask specifically for cooking spray) or over medium (I am not fat-phobic…just a moderator). I usually ask for turkey bacon (I’ve all but forgotten the taste of pork bacon…I think I’m going to keep myself weaned) and/or chicken sausage. The chicken sausage is about 80 calories less per serving than the pork, but still has 9g of fat. So you can use your best judgment on whether it's "better" or not. A serving of their turkey bacon has 72 calories, 4g fat and 8g protein.
I generally stay away from them. It’s just not worth it to try to consume pancakes. HOWEVER, the divas love them. And I must admit that if I am feeling particularly robust in appetite, I will have a bite (especially since the divas have all but forgotten the taste of sugar syrup and always get sugar free). For this reason, I suggest the Hearty Wheat pancakes. They still have white flour in them but it’s mixed with whole wheat and typically made using cooking spray instead of oil on the grill. I’d err on the side of requesting the cooking spray though. The Hearty Wheat pancakes are 310 calories an order (versus 340 for the regular), a whopping 64g of carbs, with 8g of fiber (versus 68/2 for the regular). Yeah...I'll stick to my bite. And from now on, the divas are sharing an order!
For pancakes you can feel good about eating any time, click here.
I don’t usually do dinner at Denny’s. It just doesn’t feel right. The divas like the burgers. Me and beef got beef though. And to me…sorry…a Boca Burger is not a real burger. So I tend to stick to breakfast. I have, on occasion, however, gotten dinner and here’s what I’ve had.
Senior Tilapia Meal
The tilapia is the stand-out “diet” meal on the menu, and even the stats on that aren't great. The regular meal will cost you 640 calories (which, in comparison to the rest of the menu is not bad), but if you get the senior version (a smaller filet), you knock it down to 450. The fish is grilled soft and comes with with two sides and you can make both of those veggies if you want. Mine has a Cajun variation (which is decidedly un-Cajun). I usually ask for mine with the Cajun seasoning nonetheless and ask for a side of salsa and work it out. To cut calories more, I'd insist they use cooking spray. Luckily, you can tell if they complied or not. The fish comes out more flaky and without a puddle of oil if they've done what you asked them to do.
Cranberry Pecan Salad
This is a relatively new offering and may not be at all Denny’s locations. But it is pretty decent. What I like most is that it comes in a half portion. At 2+ years out, I can finish the half portion. Basically, it’s grilled chicken atop a bed of salad greens with roasted pecans and craisins. If you are sensitive to sugar, tell them to hold the craisins. I can do them so I eat them with whatever low-cal dressing they have. A half portion will cost you 210 calories + whatever dressing you choose. Not bad!
Fit Fare Grilled chicken meal
This meal is always awkward for me. It’s good…don’t get me wrong…but it’s a little meal served on a big plate which comes out looking…empty. It’s the same deal as the tilapia meal, just throw a grilled chicken breast in there. Usually I only eat the chicken (it’s about 5 oz. so that fills me up) and ask for a piece of cheese melted on top and I pretend there’s a bun. It’s not quite the same but I feel like if I keep telling myself there’s a bun…someday it’ll taste like there’s a bun…Anyway, it will run you 380, 57g of protein (which almost guarantees you can't eat it all...so plan for half that amount of calories and protein).
Ok, so here’s some things you may want to stay away from (besides the obvious like the loaded nachos, buffalo wings, and sampler plate…)
Grits – I eat them in moderation but mostly at home. Denny’s has a tendency, no matter how much you ask them not to, to load your grits down in copious amounts of butter. Paula Deen would marvel. I do not. So I skip them.
Any of the “sizzling skillets” – ...And don't give me the "but, Nik, it's protein!" I don't care. Some stuff is just a heart attack waiting to happen. All of the skillets are very heavy on the oil and they sort of have to be so as not to burn the food. If you absolutely must try one, get your spouse or companion to order one, take a bite of theirs and leave it at that. They will cost you at least 900 calories alone and lots of fat!
Toast – now this is subjective. Sometimes I eat the toast. Again, good luck getting them not to slather it in butter. For what it’s worth, though, they serve wheat toast but technically it’s kind of not. It’s actually enriched wheat bread, which is basically white bread with some wheat germ in it. So I’d skip it if I were you. You want “dip it” eggs? Make them at home with your own 100% whole wheat bread, or, better yet, a portion of protein bread.
These are just a few suggestions to get you started.