Jared Koch, the author of Green Plates NYC offers tips for eating great sustainable meals away from home.
Order Filtered Tap Water
Restaurants that filter their water get a thumbs up. And skip bottled water - the plastic is bad for the Earth.
With Beans, Go Beyond Soy
Beans are a healthier vegetarian protein option. Ask if they've been soaked overnight, which makes them easier to digest. Or look for whole grains, tempeh (a fermented soy), or good quality free-range eggs. Can't do without soy? Inquire whether the eatery serves an organic, non-GMO (genetically modified) soy entrée.
Beware Trans Fats
These are so bad for you (think heart disease, diabetes) that NYC has banned trans-fats from restaurants, and California will take them off menus next year. Opt for steamed, baked, or roasted dishes. Or ask: "What cooking oils do you use?" Coconut's ideal (most stable at high heat); high-quality olive oil and organic butter aren't perfect, but they're better than most vegetable oils.
Be Sweet Smart
Ask if the chef makes any desserts using natural sweeteners like raw honey, maple syrup or agave nectar. If not, go for some fresh fruit. Or - if you can't resist the cake - split it with everyone.
Skip the Salt
Two exceptions: high-quality sea salt or Himalayan crystal salt (ask your waiter). Each is chock-full of good-for-you magnesium and trace minerals.
Eat Happy Chickens
When ordering meat, inquire where your animal lived (local is best), how it was raised, and what it was fed. At a minimum, go for hormone- and antibiotic-free animals; even better, look for free-range chicken, pasture-raised and grass-fed beef, or wild or organic-farmed fish.
Eat A Meal from the 21st Century (Not the 1950s)
Frozen veggies and microwaved meals - convenient cooking that skips steps - aren't going to be as healthy. Ask your waiter: Do you use a microwave? Are your vegetables fresh or frozen? Better yet, are they locally and organically grown?
Consider the Overall Meal
What if the meat's not organic and there are trans-fats galore? No matter what, eat your veggies; you'll counteract some of the negative effects of other foods. To avoid poorly raised animal products and bad oils, try pasta (with its lower glycemic index, pasta cooked al dente is best) with broccoli and tomato sauce. Steaming or poaching is also preferred.
About Clean Plates
Clean Plates NYC ($13.95) is a food-lover's guide to eating well when eating out in New York City. It's a great resource for finding restaurants that let you indulge in a delicious meal out without checking your ethics (or your top button) at the door. Since this edition only covers Manhattan, The Daily Green asked author Jared Koch to prepare these tips for the rest of the country.
"A major Clean Plates principle is that eating out doesn't have to derail your desire to eat food that's good for you and the environment," Koch said. "The trick? Make smart choices after asking a few questions and taking an educated look at the menu. Eating healthier while dining out should be easy and enjoyable."
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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc. Photos by Istock.