Tips for Healthy Eating When Eating Out

pexels-photo-313700.jpegI Corinthians 10:13 — No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

The menu looks disappointing. I probably shouldn’t have come with my friends. What can I eat in this restaurant? Maybe I’ll just give in and order a burger. This is too hard!

We all face this dilemma at some point after deciding to eat a plant-based diet, but here are a few tricks (ways out of temptation) to help you maintain a healthy diet even if there isn’t a single vegetarian entrée on the menu:

— First of all, look at the soup, salad and appetizer sections of the menu. It is quite possible that you will find something suitable there. Many times appetizers that are meant for sharing are huge and can easily be your whole dinner. One of our favorite restaurants has a delicious Hummus Platter Appetizer (a platter of fresh romaine lettuce topped with homemade roasted red pepper hummus, and garnished with sliced tomatoes and warm toasted pita bread) that I adore. It is meant for four people to share, but I always order it as my entrée when we go there, and it is more than enough.

— Look at the side dishes. You can certainly put together a satisfying meal of three or four vegetable sides (not french fries, macaroni, and onion rings!) and a salad. Cracker Barrel calls this a Vegetable Platter, and it’s becoming popular in other restaurants, too. Keep it simple and be creative.

— Sometimes you can find a great vegetarian pasta dish already on the menu, but if you can’t then look at the options that are available, and don’t be afraid to ask if a dish you like could be prepared minus the meat and/or cheese. Most restaurants are happy to comply. I usually request mushrooms instead of the meat. My husband will request nuts be substituted for the meat in his pasta dish.

— If one entrée comes with broccoli and another comes with mushrooms and peas, then ask your server if you could please have the pasta (baked potato or brown rice) minus the meat, but topped with broccoli, mushrooms and peas (because you know they already have those ingredients in house) instead. Restaurants teach their staff that a satisfied customer will be a returning customer and will tell their friends, so they are more than willing to make you a satisfied customer.

— Even fast food restaurants are becoming veg-friendly. Burger King has a veggie burger. It’s not on the menu, but ask for it. Subway and Moe’s (you probably know of others) both have several vegetarian options that you can put together however you like, and they are very inexpensive. Ethnic restaurants offer many unique plant-based dishes that are sure to please, so be courageous and try something different. You might be surprised to find a new favorite food!

— Finally, if all else fails just ask the chef if he can prepare a special meal that meets your dietary requirements. Some of the most delicious restaurant meals we’ve enjoyed were the result of simply making that request when the menu looked hopeless. Many chefs welcome the challenge. You won’t know if you don’t ask. The better restaurants always try to accommodate.

So please, don’t be intimidated by menus or refuse to go out to eat because you’re afraid you won’t be able to stick to your new healthy lifestyle if you do. Meet your friends for dinner! Enjoy their company, and don’t stress out about what to eat. In the whole scheme of life it is, after all, just one meal. You don’t have to live like a hermit to eat healthy. Just be creative and enjoy the journey … To life!

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Chen Vegetarian House, 709 Penn Ave. West Reading, PA 19611- Phone: 610-374-2288 or www.chenvegehouse.com

Chen Vegetarian House is an all vegetarian Asian restaurant with a full menu of vegetarian dishes to choose from…just what the health-minded people of Berks County have been waiting for!  Tonight was our first visit there and I was impressed.  We will be going back!  Although this is a small establishment, probably more geared to take-out than dining-in, our experience was entirely enjoyable.

We entered the newly remodeled restaurant (next to Haute Chocolat) and were promptly seated at one of the two tables by the window.  Several other tables were available near the take-out counter.  Our server answered all our questions and explained the menu (Yes, EVERYTHING on the menu is vegetarian — even the chicken, the beef, the pork, and the seafood).  They do not use MSG in any of their food.  We talked and drank green tea until our dinners arrived.  The spring rolls were piping hot and very fresh (not frozen and reheated).  My Pad Thai was delicious, seasoned perfectly with not too much “chicken” and lots of crunchy bean sprouts.  My husband ordered General Tso’s “Chicken” (his favorite) and we were both impressed by the quantity and presentation.  Our meals were delicious and the service was efficient and courteous.

Chen Vegetarian House also features something other Asian restaurants don’t offer — fresh vegetable and fruit juices (3.99) and fruit smoothies (4.29).  Hallelujah!

The menu states that lunches including white or brown rice, hot & sour soup or spring roll, and entrée are only $5.99.  To save time you can pre-order online and pick up at the counter. Business hours are Mon. – Thurs.: 11 am – 10 pm, Fri. and Sat.: 11 am – 10:30 pm, and Sun.: 12 pm – 9:30 pm.  Visa, Mastercard, and Discover are accepted.  Now until 1/31/2014 is their Grand Opening and you get 10% off a minimum $20 order!

If you want a healthy and delicious meal for not a lot of money, then I would highly recommend Chen Vegetarian House.

Franchia Vegan Cafe, 12 Park Ave. (between 34th & 35th St.) New York, NY 10016, (212) 213-1001.

Franchia is another healthy restaurant in the heart of Manhattan. They specialize in vegan Korean and Thai cuisine.  Bibimbap is a popular traditional Korean health staple consisting of rice (your choice white or brown) with various toppings including vegetarian “chicken” or “duck.”  A variety of Asian noodles and toppings are also available along with vegetarian sushi (all chicken, shrimp, crab meat, and tuna are vegetarian versions based on soy gluten and seaweed).

At Franchia I counted no fewer than 50 different hot and iced tea flavors.  They’re sure to have your favorite or a new favorite you haven’t tried yet!  You can linger over the Royal Tea Tray (26.95) or Prix Fixe lunch (26.95) or dinner (29.95) which includes everything from appetizers to dessert, or choose from one of the many lunch specials (12.95). The decor at Franchia is tranquil, modern, and upscale — a quiet haven in the middle of the bustling city.  You will love it!  The website is: http://www.franchia.com.

Madras Mahal Vegetarian Indian Restaurant, 104 Lexington Ave. (between 27th & 28th St.) New York, NY. (212) 684-4010

Having just returned from a delightful couple of days in New York City, I thought I’d share some great vegetarian restaurants we tried while there.  I know it’s always a challenge to eat healthy when traveling, so I appreciate it when someone can point me in the direction of a good vegetarian restaurant when I’m away from home.  Madras Mahal in Midtown Manhattan is one I can highly recommend.  The restaurant specializes several diverse Indian cuisines with options we don’t often have the opportunity to try in traditional Indian restaurants. They offer dishes from both southern and northern India (yes, there is a difference), and the restaurant is strictly kosher.  Actually, if you love Indian food this block of Lexington Ave has many establishments from which to choose if you’re feeling adventurous.  We found the food to be delicious, prices moderate for the city, staff attentive and courteous — everything clean and efficient.  Judging by the number of happy patrons at Madras Mahal we weren’t the only ones who felt this way. To learn more you can visit their website: http://www.madrasmahal.com.

Austin’s Restaurant, 1101 Snyder Rd., West Lawn, PA 19609, 610-678-5500

Austin’s is an upscale American restaurant suitable for family dining, date night, or business lunches.  The decor is classic and clean on two levels with brick appointments and an open view of the kitchen.  The food may be a couple of dollars on the high side of average, but they do use the freshest of ingredients and everything is made to order.  Their servers work as a team, which keeps things moving smoothly and efficiently.  There are several vegetarian options on the menu, and there is even a gluten-free menu available if you ask your server.  Austin’s will gladly substitute brown rice or gluten-free pasta for any pasta for only $1.00.

On the night we visited I ordered the Vegetable Platter ($12.99).  It included steamed broccoli, zucchini, yellow squash and snow peas served with Austin’s own homemade Chipotle Black Beans and brown rice with two slices of garlic toast.  Everything was delicious, and the portions were more than generous.

My husband ordered the Vegetarian Pasta ($14.99): vegetables stir-fried with oil, garlic, and spices tossed with linguine, Parmesan cheese, diced tomatoes and toasted bread crumbs.  A large side salad was included in the price.  We both had hot tea to drink (free and prompt refills).

Austin’s has a variety of desserts on their menu (if you have any room left), and they also feature a Kid’s Menu for their younger clients,  and Daily Lunch Specials.  They open everyday at 11:00 am for lunch and dinner.  Reservations are not required, but we have found that it is wise to call ahead and get on the list before arriving.

I would recommend Austin’s for any occasion when you want to go somewhere a little upscale.  It is conveniently located on the corner of Snyder and Van Reed Rd. just across from that big church on the corner (Glad Tidings). You will be pleased with the appearance, location, food, service, and atmosphere at this classic restaurant.  I can’t think of a thing they could do to improve.

To see their complete menu and learn more: http://www.austinsrestaurant.com.

China King Chinese Restaurant: 840 North Park Rd. Wyomissing, PA 19610 (Park Plaza)

China King is a small casual restaurant located in a little strip mall off N. Park Road.  It is a great place to get delicious Chinese food fast. They offer several vegetarian dishes, including our favorite, General Tso’s “Chicken.” Food can be prepared with no MSG (you won’t miss it), brown rice is available on request, and any dish followed by (D) can be made as a low calorie, low cholesterol dish with absolutely no oil, salt or sugar — who says eating out will ruin your diet!

I consider China King to be an excellent value.  The first time we ate in their tiny diningroom we ordered an entrée for each of us — big mistake!  Two of us could barely finish one entrée, the servings were THAT BIG!  Now we order one entrée and share it.  That is plenty and with spring rolls and tea we leave completely satisfied with no boxes of leftovers to carry.  Our total bill is usually around $12.00 for two people, a price that is hard to beat anywhere.

China King offers take out and delivery service ($10.00 minimum for delivery) if you’d rather eat at home or the office.  Everyday they have a lunch buffet for only $5.45/ person which includes free water or soda, but I am sorry to say that there are no vegetarian entrees on the lunch buffet.  (Maybe if enough people request it, they will change that!) Visa, MasterCard, and Diners Club cards are accepted, BYOB. Friendly, fast service, generous portions, low prices = highly recommend!

PHONE: 610-373-5851, 610-373-8805

FAX: 610-373-8803

Tulsi, Fine Indian Cuisine Restaurant and Lounge, 2101 Columbia Ave. Lancaster, PA 17603, phone: 717-509-7771, www.tulsicuisine.com

Tulsi Indian Restaurant, under new management within the last 6 weeks, is well worth the 35 – 40 minute drive from Reading.  It is located in the Travel Lodge Motel, but don’t be deceived by the outward appearance.  Inside you will find a lovely candlelit diningroom with cloth tablecloths and napkins and uniformed waiters who could not be more attentive without being intrusive — very friendly and accommodating.

We were happy to find many vegetarian options on the menu at Tulsi.  On a Wednesday evening we ordered from the “specials,”  and for only $11.95 per person we each got one appetizer, one entree, rice, and naan (Indian bread).  Beverage was extra, but free refills on the tea.  For appetizers I ordered the Vegetable Samosas (crisp pastries stuffed with potatoes and spices) and my husband had the Vegetable Pakoras (assorted vegetable fritters). These appetizers were served with a crisp unleavened bread (I think the waiter called it “Roti”) and an assortment of three sauces (sweet, tangy, and hot).

For entrees I chose the Malai Kofta (vegetarian alternative to meatballs in a rich tomato/onion gravy with light raisins).  I asked for “not spicy,” and it wasn’t —  at first.  It wasn’t until the third bite that I noticed the slow burn — not too hot, but I did have to rely on frequent bites of warm naan to cool off. The occasional raisin was a wonderful accompaniment to the heat and flavors of this dish, which I thought was delicious.  The chef made Aloo Mutter for my husband’s special request at a 6 out of 10 on the hotness scale.  He was smokin’, but he likes it that hot so he was very happy.

I would highly recommend Tulsi;  for the flavor, price, and atmosphere I don’t think you can beat this restaurant.  The portions are very generous.  I wish we had left room to try one of their desserts, but the entrees were so tasty that we just couldn’t stop eating until we had finished them completely.

Tulsi is open everyday for lunch and dinner, and have a daily lunch buffet.  They also offer take-out, delivery, and catering.  My only criticism is that they don’t have a very big parking lot.  That wasn’t a problem on a Wednesday night, but I could see it making parking difficult on weekends. If you like Indian cuisine then try Tulsi — I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Sacred Grounds Grille and Cafe, 1110 Snyder Rd., Reading, PA 19609 Phone: 610-678-0266, www.gtaog.org

I have been meaning to write about Sacred Grounds Grille and Cafe for a few months, and apologize for not sharing information about this little gem of a restaurant before now.  This casual modern eatery is located at Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church in West Lawn, PA, and is open to the public.  The hours of operation are (a little unusual): Tues. – Thurs. 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., Wed. 5 p.m. – 9 p.m., and Sunday 8 a.m. – 1:30 p.m..  The entrance to the restaurant is the main entrance to The Worship Center toward the rear of the church on Snyder Rd.  (Enter The Worship Center and turn right in the lobby).

Don’t think that this is just card tables and folding chairs in a spare room of the church.  This is a full service restaurant with commercial kitchen and competent staff.  The atmosphere is light and airy with modern furnishings and one entire wall of huge glass windows.  In nice weather you even have the option of dining outside on the patio.

The very reasonable and creative menu includes salads, soups, cold and hot sandwiches, wraps, pizza, and sides– plenty of vegetarian options! I’ve eaten at Sacred Grounds several times, and my favorite menu item is the Strawberry Spinach Salad.  For only $6.25 you will not find a larger or tastier salad anywhere, and they are not stingy with the strawberries and walnuts.  You can get the poppyseed vinaigrette on top or on the side — all served on real china dishes with stainless steel utensils (not plastic).  This salad is definitely a meal 🙂  Yummy!  Hot and cold drinks and desserts  are available just a few steps away at the Cafe.  Note: a portion of the profits from the sale of their fair trade coffee goes to support foreign missions.

This restaurant is open to the public, and even has free WiFi.  For a casual lunch with friends or a quiet business meeting, Sacred Grounds is unique in the area for its clean, healthy, modern, wholesome  environment and delicious food at reasonable prices.  Very classy, Sacred Grounds is a place you will be proud to take guests to; and while you’re there discover what’s going on at “that big church on the corner.” Highly recommended!

Aladdin Mediterranean Restaurant, 401 Penn Ave. West Reading, PA 19611. Phone 610-685-6677

Aladdin is a wonderful Mideastern restaurant that offers a variety of delectable foods for the health conscious.  They have an extensive vegetarian menu to eat in or take out, and always use the finest fresh ingredients.  It is one of our favorite restaurants in Berks County — we have never been disappointed by the food or the service.  The atmosphere is very ethnic — almost like eating in a desert nomad’s tent or a Mideastern marketplace, complete with music. To add to the fun, Friday night usually features a live bellydancer.

Last night I ordered the Aladdin Makaleh which consisted of grilled cauliflower, zucchini, and eggplant along with falafel topped with shredded lettuce, tomato, onion, and tahini sauce.  It was delicious (and huge)! My husband had the Falafel Salad, which is a very generous serving of falafel, hummus, tabouleh, and tahini sauce.  At only $7.50 it is a bargain.  I have ordered the Falafel Salad in the past and can tell you that their tabouleh is the best!  Don’t let the word “salad” make you think this dish will leave you feeling hungry; it is definitely large enough for a satisfying entrée.  We had fountain drinks (free refills), and did not order dessert because it was a friend’s birthday,  and we had brought our own cake.  Aladdin supplied plates and silverware with a smile.  If you are looking for excellent vegetarian food in Berks County, then you won’t be disappointed with Aladdin.  If you don’t see exactly what you want on the menu, you can make your own combination platter or ask them to alter any item to suit your preference, and they will oblige.

Aladdin is truly a gem — a wonderful compliment to the Main Street revitalization program in West Reading.  Their prices are reasonable and parking is convenient.  Oh, they do serve meat dishes and have a Kids Menu, too 🙂

For more information online:  DineIndie.com/Aladdin

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ZOUP! Woodland Rd. in The Shoppes at Wyomissing, PA 19610, 610 372-6717

Zoup! is a new franchise restaurant in town.  If you follow Woodland Rd. east past the Berkshire Mall you will end up in the parking lot of The Shoppes at Wyomissing, an upscale strip mall where you will find Zoup! situated more or less in the middle of the strip.

My first impression of Zoup! was that is very clean and the staff was very helpful and answered all our questions — even offering free samples of the soup before we ordered. In appearance Zoup! is reminiscent of a scaled down version of Panera Bread; scaled down because they don’t have a bakery (or any desserts) on the premises.  Zoup! offers soups, salads, and sandwiches freshly made at reasonable prices.  They had four vegetarian soups on the menu the night we were there: vegetarian split pea, tomato basil, wild mushroom barley, and butternut squash (that is a larger selection than Panera, which usually only offers one, sometimes two). Any salad can be made into a wrap. Sandwiches can be ordered deli-style or grilled.

My partner and I both decided on the vegetarian split pea soup (large) and a “cali veg sandwich”, which we split (whole sandwiches are quite large). For an extra $1.99 any soup can be served in a bread bowl. We each had freshly brewed iced tea (free refills).  Everything we had was delicious.  With the soup you get a good-sized complimentary fresh roll (three choices: white, wheat, or multigrain), so there really is no need to purchase the bread bowl unless you really love bread.

Zoup! occasionally publishes coupons, and we had one that night for “buy one get one free soup.”  That was worth about $5.50 — what a deal!  With our coupon our entire bill for two, including tax, came to only $15.08.  We will definitely go back to Zoup!  It’s a nice place to go for a healthy lunch or casual dinner while shopping.  They also have free wi-fi. See them on the web @www.zoup.com

I thought Zoup! was a great value for the money. Plus, they have free internet!