Parsing a Menu

I went on a field trip with my weight maintenance class to Cafe Bossa Nova for dinner recently.  The event, called Dining with a Dietitian, is one of my favorite parts of the 12-week UAMS Weight Maintenance Program.  Several weeks ahead of time, the class nominates restaurants that suit our tastes, have room to accomodate a large group, and where good eating decisions can be made.  Last time around, we went to Taziki’s.  This time, it was Cafe Bossa Nova, a Brazilian-themed restaurant in Little Rock.

Once the restaurant is chosen, we begin our study of the menu.  We’re taught to look for buzz words on the menus that tip off foods to avoid.  I printed out the menu, and with my trusty felt-tipped pen, I circled some of the words such as creamy, smothered, dipped, breaded, Alfredo, sauteed, and crispy.

Menu Buzz Words 1

While the Camarao Na Abobora looked tasty, its $25 price tag sent me searching for more reasonably-priced options.  “Stuffed,” “bacon,” “creamy,” and “pesto,” all showed up on the list for scrutiny.  There is no rule that says, “thou shalt not eat foods labeled creamy,” but these words should serve to alert you to the possibility of high calorie dishes.

Menu Buzz Words 2

After marking the buzzwords, I looked over the entries which went unscathed and which were within my price range.  A couple caught my eye.  First, Vegetais Assados.

Menu Selection 1

This dish appealed to me because of its non-starchy vegetables, protein-packed black beans, and the opportunity to try hearts of palm, which I’ve never eaten.  Whereas I used to be a picky eater, I now jump at the opportunity to try new things.  So far, I have not yet found a food that I wouldn’t try a second time.

Menu Item Chosen

The dish I decided to go with was the Brasileirissimo.  It had the black beans and rice from the other dish, but it also offered grilled chicken breast.  Knowing how I struggle with weight gain after eating red meat (and because sirloin neither swims nor flies), I opted for the poultry.  Additionally, ordering the chicken gave me the opportunity to share it with Theresa, a classmate seated beside me who couldn’t decide between the chicken and another dish.


A lovely presentation, and with generous enough portions to share between two people, the Brasileirissimo was an excellent choice.  Not at all over-seasoned, the chicken was moist and tender.  The rice was fluffy, and the beans were flavorful.  The greens were tart and tangy, and the tomatoes were a refreshing touch.

This is the third restaurant meal I’ve eaten since transitioning to conventional food.  Each and every meal I’ve consumed otherwise has been food I’ve prepared at home.  While I don’t have a lot of practice, I do feel confident in my ability to look at food offerings from an objective, nutrition-based standpoint.  One huge component that helps me is the diabetic exchange system.

I see this plate as a composition of starches, proteins, and vegetables.  I eat chicken breast every day for lunch, so I know about how much a portion is.  I eat rice every day for lunch, and I can measure out 1/3 cup like nobody’s business.  While I don’t prepare beans at home, I know how to categorize them — protein-rich, starchy vegetable.  The rest of this plate is essentially window dressing, although the “dressing” on the greens included enough oil to count as a serving of fat.

Take a minute to look back at my post on meal planning with the exchange system if you haven’t seen it before.  When I’m presented with the challenge to make a healthy meal, I typically start with my meal template of 3 protein exchanges, 1-2 carbohydrate exchanges, 1-2 vegetable exchanges, and a fat exchange.  That’s exactly what’s on this plate!

I’ve been invited to join Katie from You Brew My Tea on her next trip to Murry’s Dinner Playhouse.  Me?  Eating from a dinner theater buffet?  Youbetcha!  Katie forwarded me a copy of the menu, themed for the upcoming show.  Her message said simply, “Think we can survive this menu? Surely good choices can be made. 🙂 ”

Roast Pork and Cranberries
Slow Roasted Beef

Shepherd’s Pie
Fish and Chips
Pot Roast and Vegetables
Bangers (Sausage)
Mac and Cheese
Steamed Vegetables
Fried Cabbage
Mash Potatoes and Gravy

Baby Greens and Spinach
Fruit Salad
Chicken Salad
Ham Salad
Broccoli Slaw
Kosher Pickles
Assorted Veggies

Bread Pudding 
Peanut Butter Moose
Peach Cobbler
Cherry Cobbler
Chocolate Cake

Absolutely, good choices can be made!  With buffets, the key is portion control.  Whether you’re sampling a bit of a lot of things or having just a few things, grab a salad plate instead of a dinner plate.  Don’t pile things up.  Go for the foods that are the least processed.  All of the basics of good decision making still apply.

My choices for this menu, again, are guided by the diabetic exchange system.  Three ounces of lean protein, one or two starches, one or two vegetables, and a fat serving.  The least-adulterated lean protein on this menu seems to be roast pork.  For my non-starchy vegetables, I’d go for the steamed vegetables, which likely includes carrots and cauliflower.  A healthy portion of cooked vegetables is 1/2 cup.  Additionally, I’d prepare a salad with the darkest greens they have, topped with broccoli slaw, carrots, tomatoes, and a pickle spear.  For my starch, it looks like the “least worst choice” offered is mashed potatoes.  As we learned from the danger list above, gravy is generally an additive to avoid.  It’s filled with sodium and fat.  If they had rice, corn, or beans, I would choose one of those over mashed potatoes.  Even a whole wheat roll would be preferable.

I’m ready and willing to take on the world of “restaurant food,” equipped with the words to watch out for, the strategy of the exchange system, and my personal experiences gained from portioning and packing my own foods regularly.  Paired with the courage to ask questions and make special requests, this is “no sweat!”

Let me leave you with one bit of wisdom from the Foodtritionist:  If you’re ever in doubt about restaurant portion control, just cut whatever they give you in half and box it up immediately.

Which menu shall we parse next?

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