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I’ll be honest: I grew up eating out a lot.  And after I got married, and even after we started our switch to real food, I still wanted to eat out.  I enjoy the experience of being out, sharing a meal I don’t have to cook or clean up, conversation with family and friends, everyone getting something they like, etc.  It’s fun.  And I do still go out to eat once or twice a month when my parents come, although I’m more selective about where I’ll eat and what I’ll order now.  It’s taken me a long time to let go of the “eating out” thing, and not to want to run to the nearest restaurant every time I was too busy or stressed out to cook.

But I don’t anymore (that is, as an “I’m stressed” resort).

Restaurants are really uncertain territory, and today I’m going to tell you why shouldn’t eat at (most) restaurants.

1. Cooking Oils

Most restaurants, even “better” ones, still use polyunsaturated cooking oils, like soybean, peanut, or canola.  A few might use olive oil, which still shouldn’t be heated.  Some use vegetable shortening, which is partially hydrogenated (a huge no-no).  And don’t think you’re escaping it because you didn’t order anything fried: many restaurants coat meats in oils before grilling them.  It’s hard to escape the oils entirely, and they’re not good for you.  Sadly, I learned that even Chipotle, which sources many of their ingredients from good sources, uses soybean oil.

2. Food Additives

Most of the food in the average restaurant comes “prepared” — that is, they have to open up a package and heat it up (if needed).  Sauces, soups, dips, spices, etc. all come premixed or premade.  (This is not true in upscale restaurants, at least not as often.)  Therefore, these things are laden with preservatives and a lot of other junk.  They also can’t give you a junk-free version since they don’t make it in-house anyway.

 

3. MSG

I know this is a food additive, but it’s so heinous it deserves its own category.  It’s got some nasty side effects, like migraines.  It’s a neurotoxin.  It’s also used in a lot of sneaky places, like breading (think KFC), seasonings for meat dishes, and even salad dressings.  It’s hard to avoid, and you need to be careful.

4. CAFO Meat

In the vast majority of restaurants, the meat you are served was raised in a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, or CAFO.  They’re fed GMO corn, soy, and other unnatural foods.  This is not healthy meat.  Occasional indulgence isn’t going to hurt, but it’s still not nourishing food that you really want to consume.  Not to mention the ethical considerations of consuming meat that was raised in such inhumane conditions.

 

5. Non-organic produce

Dirty dozen produce is rampant in restaurants, which can contain lots of pesticides and herbicides.  Some of them are genetically modified.  While it’s probably not a huge deal if you eat non-organic produce now and then, it’s certainly another reason to consider avoiding (most) restaurants!

 

6. ” Butter

Just try to find real butter in the restaurants these days.  Many average restaurants don’t even have it available.  They only carry margarine.  This is not something that you want to eat, ever!  Fake butter “spreads” are trans fats and very bad for your health (the ones that aren’t partially hydrogenated are intersified, which some argue is even worse).  Better restaurants have butter available, and really nice ones will offer it immediately.

 

7. Grain Issues

The grains in these restaurants will likely be bleached white grains (usually wheat, but also white rice).  The whole grains they do offer won’t be properly soaked.  It depends on how sensitive you are, or how you feel about eating grains/”cheating” with white flour, but it can be a significant issue for some.

 

8. Special Diets

If you’re on a special diet, like GAPS, it’ll be almost impossible to find food that suits you.  This is true with any allergies or other requirements.  Even if a dish looks safe, it could be prepared with an unsafe spice, sauce, or oil — and you may not even know to ask in some cases!

 

9. Expensive

Restaurants are expensive!  Meals at an average restaurant are $5 – $10 per person, and at nicer places, $20 or more.  That’s a lot, especially for lower quality food.  Why pay for it, especially when you’re on a budget?  (It’s one reason we generally go out when my parents are here and not otherwise!)

 

10. You Don’t Feel Well!

Frankly, after a meal at most restaurants, you just won’t feel well.  Why do you want to waste your time and money to eat out when you’ll pay for it after (and not just with money)?

Image by Calgary Review 

Are There Good Restaurants?

The short answer?  Yes.  They’re not always easy to find, and they’re not cheap.  There are local restaurants in some areas that actually make everything from scratch.  They aren’t cheap, though, so while they’re great for a special date night, they’re not so great for a casual family meal!

Some of the nicer restaurants out there — like Cheesecake Factory — have some good options.  We go there from time to time.

The bottom line is to ask questions.  Ask your server whether sauces or spices come in pre-mixed packages, or if they’re made in-house.  Ask if they make their own stock or have real butter.  Preferably, ask in advance via phone or email, but don’t hesitate to ask while you’re there, too.  If in doubt, order things plain!

Where can you find good restaurants?

  • The Healthy Home Economist (she’s blogged about some restaurants near her in FL that are good)
  • Kelly the Kitchen Kop (she’s in Grand Rapids, MI and also blogs about good local options)
  • Do a Google search and look for “bistro” — this seems to bring up higher quality restaurants
  • If you know of a good restaurant in your area, please share!
Good Restaurants in Central OH:
There are more, but those are ones I’ve tried or know more about.

Do you eat at restaurants?  Why or why not?  If you do, which ones?  (Any good ones to share?)


This is the writings of:

Kate is wife to Ben and mommy to Bekah (5), Daniel (4), Jacob (2), and Nathan (born March 2013). She is passionate about God, health, and food. She has written 7 cookbooks and a book entitled A Practical Guide to Children's Health. When she's not blogging, she's in the kitchen, sewing, or homeschooling her children. You can also find her as a contributor at Keeper of the Home.

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45 Comments

  1. I’ve gone through the same thing. Chipotle used to be my treat that I would do on crazy shopping days, but after trying different variations of what I could order, I decided I just get migraines there no matter what. There are some excellent restaurants that locally source their foods and use a lot of organic, but a lot of these issues you mention still apply, not to mention price and location inhibits more than once-in-blue-moon visits. I certainly jump on groupons when they come up!

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  2. We eat out once or twice a month. I also live in the W. MI area, and there are actually many good restaurants in the area that source from the same farms where I get my meat, cheese, eggs, and produce. Life is too short to worry about whether or not the oil they are using is the best, because I figure that if all of the other time I’m eating well, once or twice a month enjoying a date night with my husband is WAAAAY more important than obsessing about the ingredients of my meal – especially if I already know the sourcing practices of the restaurant, and that it’s mostly the same food I’d buy for my own family.

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    • I know this is a really old comment, but if you happen to see this I would love to know of good places in west MI.

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  3. I’m writing a very similar post right now. Another good reason is portion control – portions are way out of control at restaurants. What the USDA considers a “serving” of any particular item you can expect to see x3 in a restaurant meal. Ugh!

    Great article – I think I will cite you in my post.

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  4. Alana’s (2333 N. High Street, Columbus, Ohio 43201) is local, healthy, seasonal, organic, grass-fed meats, etc etc etc and EXPENSIVE! But a lovely option for a special occasion dinner like an anniversary. http://alanas.com

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  5. We don’t go a lot–mainly because of cost! Haha! I do love Panera and Jason’s Deli, both of which have better options (or at least they claim to have them). We do eat Chick-fil-A about once a month as our only fast food. Although, I recently heard they are switching from peanut to canola oil? :(

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    • I think their peanut oil has TBHQ in it which makes it a problem.

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      • Chick fil a also uses MSG. I still don’t get why they are considered the ‘healthier’ fast food option.

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        • Yes, they do. They are not any healthier than any other fast food place. Neither is Subway. Only Chipotle shines above and they even use quite a bit of soy in their products, so it’s hard for many to eat there.

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    • Panera uses FOOD DYE now. We discovered it when the apples became red in a muffin that we always got. Then I found out that they quietly put it in almost everything. To me you color food when the quality goes down. It really isn’t very healthy. The bigger it gets the worse it has become. I live in St. Louis they started here and it is nothing like it used to be. Many of the items are pre packaged as well.

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  6. In a pinch i grabbed lunch today at Bob Evans. 14w into my first pregnancy and I am crazy for eggs!

    All of that aside, when the nasty fake butter showed up at the table, I asked for real and actually got some! I believe Cracker Barrel also offers the real thing.

    I considered it a small victory for real butter lovers everywhere.

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  7. Great post! My husband and I have also stopped eating out at most restaurants. When on the rare occasion we do go out we have a VERY short list of places we go and they, for the most part, make most of their dishes from in-house prepared ingredients. We live in Rochester NY and our favorite place to go for date night is called Lento. BEST FOOD I’VE EVER EATEN and everything is made in house and everything is local and organic. Expensive but one of the few places where I can eat and not leave with a sour stomach. http://www.lentorestaurant.com/
    But, at the end of the day, the best food for my family comes straight from my kitchen using as much organic or at least raw foods as possible. I have some of the healthiest children I know ;-)

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  8. We try not to eat out much, but when we do we love to order from a local Spanish restaurant. It’s the only time we ever get a freshly cooked meal. It rivals my hubby’s grandma’s Dominican home cooking. And it’s a real dive joint, but those who know, know. Can’t judge a book by it’s cover!

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  9. Eating out is like russian roullette!!!! I live in Gallup, NM and I don’t know of any “healthy” restaurants here. It’s hard eating out when you’re restricted on what you can eat. Portion control is another factor. I had weight loss surgery a year ago and every time we go out, I have to be careful of what I order and as soon as my plate is set down, I have to ask for a to-go box so I can put over 1/2 of it away. It’s better just to make your own meals at home. Saves on frustration too!!!

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  10. Check out Fisherman’s Wharf on Polaris. I initially thought it was a chain, but it’s not. The owner has other Greek restaurants and was there seating tables when we went. I know a lot of seafood is controversial, but it was very good!

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  11. Hey there,
    As a side note, you mention olive oil not needing to be used for cooking. At what temperature is it compromised?
    I’ve haven’t used it for cooking in a couple of years, and stick with coconut oil or sometimes butter if I’m baking.
    But… I love the taste of olive oil on my kale chips which I bake in the oven on 170 degrees for a few hours. Do you think that temp would damage it? If so, I can always drizzle them with coconut oil, but the olive oil on them is just so yummy! :)
    Thanks for your thoughts
    Jessica

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    • Hi Jessica, I believe that the smoke point of olive oil is around 350. At 170 you would definitely be safe. :)

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      • I forgot that little tid bit about olive oil! I just made he switch to olive oil (EVOO and extra light for non Italian meals). What’s a good oil for sautee’ing?

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        • Hi Danielle, you can use coconut oil or pastured lard. Sometimes I use olive oil anyway…sigh. Because I like it in Italian dishes. And of course there’s always butter. :)

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          • Is there a heating point when coconut oil is compromised? Or when you may as well have used the refined coconut oil?

  12. my husband loves a ‘spreadable’ butter, unfortunately at our stores this means a fake butter substitute. what other options are there?

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    • Hi Sara, you can keep butter in a “butter bell” at home, which means leaving it out on the counter all the time in a special container. That keeps it soft. Or, if you prefer it cold, you can mix olive oil into soft butter and refrigerate that.

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      • Butter left out changes into a bad fat. I don’t remember the specifics, but it’s bad.

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        • I have never heard that before, and I’m not sure why that would occur. Polyunsaturated oils that are exposed to heat and light may become rancid and oxidize because they are highly unstable. Butter, however, as a saturated fat, is much more stable and not prone to oxidization the same way other oils are.

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          • We left butter out ALL the time when I was growing up and it never spoiled. This was in an unAC’d house also. So I agree with kate on the butter being fine left out.

    • Or your hubby could just take it out of the fridge ahead of time. Just like real peanut butter – it’s mildy inconvenient when compared to the chemically processed crap, but you get over it. Priorities, you know?

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  13. Ross Park Mall in Pittsburgh has a restaurant in the food court called Dolce Mia. We have talked to the owner and she is careful to make everything from scratch. So far we’ve been very pleased.

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  14. I’ve good luck at Outback, believe it or not. Most of the time when we go out (which isn’t more than a couple of times a month), I’ll choose a place where I can get a steak with just spices, and steamed broccoli with real butter(or plain). It’s not perfect, but tons better than anything else I could get at a restaurant.

    I’ve also had good experiences at Lupe Tortilla! I get the fajitas, but skip the tortillas and just eat the meat and veggies. I don’t know for sure what kind of oils they use, but I do know that I can eat there without feeling horrible afterwards, and that’s saying something.

    I’m on the GAPS diet, and since I eat so strictly at home, I’m ok with these small cheats every once in a while. Thankfully I’m able to handle them too- of course I don’t eat anything that’s going to make me feel awful later.

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  15. Hi- what a beautiful and informative site! I have a question: if not cooking oils, what should I use? Thanks.

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  16. I’d love to know of ‘safe’ restaurants in the Medina OH area :)

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  17. In Dayton, Ohio, there is a restaurant called Olive and Urban Dive that is AWESOME! They use all local produce and meat – the beef is grass fed and the chicken is pastured. They offer to all diets, including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free. Highly recommend if you are in that area!

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  18. Nope, we rarely ever go out to eat. I think the last time we ate out was in December and that was a local sushi place. Honestly, my husband and I love to cook and always think our meals are tastier and with fewer ingredients. Aside from sushi, we just really prefer to eat at home!

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  19. We used to go out to eat on occasion, but now that we are following the Feingold Diet for my daughter, we have almost stopped completely. On the Feingold Diet, you avoid BHT, TBHQ and BHA preservatives and other artificial ingredients. It is almost impossible to find oils not preserved with these things at restaurants. They can cause severe behavior issues in children and removing them from our diet has changed our lives!

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  20. One of the breakfast places where I live cooks everything in duck fat. :) The girls at work like to go after night shift and they were groaning about how “unhealthy it is but so good.” I thought it was great that they used duck fat!

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  21. We choose authentic Mexican when we go out. It’s the only thing that we can eat that doesn’t either make us feel crappy, or we leave going “I could have made that better at home for less.” Thankfully we have a lot of migrant workers around so Taquerias are easy to find :-). Yes, the tortillas are more than likely made with field corn that is GMO, but they are prepared with lime. . . do you know how many organic corn tortillas are not prepared with lime!?

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  22. there is a local place called Cleveland Heath close to us in Edwardsville, IL. while they don’t treat grains all of the food is from amazing sources and their dishes are TO DIE FOR. they have an amazing baby beet salad… salivating just thinking about it! unfortunately we end up eating out more than i’d like (and more than we can afford) and our top three “normal” places are chipotle, crackerbarrel & bread co. there are options at each that are prepared fresh and fewer preservatives at least. :/ hate to hear about the soybean oil though- i left a FB comment on their page, doubtful it will be seen, but worth a shot!

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  23. We don’t eat out except anniversary and special occasions. I have a fear of eating out. If it isn’t the fear they are going to poison me–allergy to mushrooms and have had 6 or 7 restaurants send me to ICU by not believing anyone can be allergic to mushrooms, it’s finding dirty silverware at the table wrapped in a napkin, watching the waiter/waitress wipe their nose/face/pick nose just prior to going to get dishes out of kitchen, watch them clean a table of dirty dishes and after walking into kitchen with them walk out with food plates and serve them.

    I have seen open kitchens where you can see them wipe their face/nose and keep right on cooking. No thank you…the few times I get talked into going out I am uncomfortable doing so and worried for hours afterwards. So no thank you…I will cook and for special occasions…he can clean up. Works for me.

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    • THIS. This is exactly why we stopped eating out. I don’t trust restaurants anymore, and the food is so disappointing for the price. The last place I ate out served me pieces of a broken coffee cup mixed in with my salad…….I shudder to think what I *didn’t* see. Needless to say, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

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  24. I live in Los Angeles. I don’t know of a restaurant that serves grass-fed lamb, beef, or otherwise. But again, I haven’t researched it. I just went to The Olive Pit Grill in Huntington Beach for the first time and loved it, but since I was someone’s guest I didn’t really investigate it. Thought I would just eat lamb and veggies until I caved in for the dessert and coffee, something I never have.

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  25. The wildflower cafe (mason, oh- northern suburb of cincinnati) has amazing food- grass fed, pastured, local sources or grown in their own garden. I don’t think they soak their grains, but I haven’t asked. everything is made from scratch. Have to make reservations because it’s small. The salads and sandwiches are $8-$10 and very filling, entrees are around $20.

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  26. My town has several restaurants popping up that have good local meat and produce. One that just started up last year serves the BEST burgers ever. The beef is grass-fed and the bacon is also local. I was so happy to find it!

    Otherwise if we eat out we do Chipotle. I love that place and they carry Polyface pork. Guacamole yum yum yum.

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  27. For my birthday last year hubby took me to an upscale “gastropub” because I wanted to try their aged scotch flight and had heard good things about a fish stew they made. The bartender knew nothing about any of the scotch in the flight and the stew tasted like dirty sock water and hot sauce. The bill came out to around $90. We could’ve prepare a tasty cioppino and made cocktails at home.

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  28. You are spot on… I have to travel for my job and have no choice sometimes, but I DEFINATELY feel it… We all have to slow down and get back to our grandparents era when we made EVERYTHING from scratch… That’s why they all lived til well into the 80′s, 90′s and 100′s and we are all dying off in our 30′s, 40′s, 50′s and 60′s… We are going backwards…

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  29. We rarely go to restaurants anymore since we started to eat clean. The reasons are all that you mentioned above. When we did go out it was not unusual for one out of five of us not to feel good afterwards.
    Another thing is that I waitressed for a year about 5 years ago. I saw way too much in the “back of the house”. I would never eat a salad out or get a lemon in your water.

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