A few weeks ago a friend at work invited me to eat lunch with her at Panera. I was a bit concerned.
Panera is one of those restaurants that kind of looks healthy at first glance, but in reality most of their menu items can really ruin your nutritional day. Oh, they’re delicious all right, but the carb and fat content is too high for lunch – which is a meal I try to keep modest if possible.
On the upside, Panera has graciously posted the entire nutritional contents of their menu online and available for download. I think they rightly figure that although people like me will be shocked at how calorific some things turn out to be, they will come and eat there anyway if they realize that there are a pretty decent selection of menu items they can have – rather than avoiding the restaurant altogether.
For example, the tomato and mozzarella Panini I would have ordered had I not known any better clocks in at a staggering 740 calories and 27 grams of fat. Without looking at the menu I would have thought: vegetarian, fresh bread, fresh cheese, yummy tomatoes – how bad could it be? And wound up munching over half my day’s calorie allotment and more fat than I should have in a day, in one meal. Not good.
Armed with information, I selected half of a roasted turkey & avocado BLT on sourdough at 260 calories and 11 grams of fat, and paired it with a cup of yummy vegetarian black bean soup at 170 calories and 2 grams of fat – for a lunch total of 430 calories and 13 grams of fat. That’s still a big lunch, but it’s not a disastrous one. They try to serve you another hunk of bread with the soup, but you can exchange that for a small apple instead.
Planning ahead (when I am not currently hungry) is key for me with regards to eating out. Restaurants these days are catering to the nutritionally conscious and providing ample information for us to order by. Red Robin (yes, the burger joint) has a fun interactive part of their website where you can plan and tweak your meal until you’re totally satisfied with its calorie count – then print your finished selection to bring to the restaurant with you and simply hand to your server. Plus it has cute graphics that remind me a little of Burger Time (remember that video game?)
At any rate, that Thursday I found myself in front of the register at Panera holding a printout in front of me and ordering off of the nutritional menu. It was easier and less tempting to do that than to even try looking at the selections up on the board. The boy behind the register was a cute, tan skinned kid with curly black hair who was puzzled by what I was reading off of. I showed him and he was surprised by the extent of the nutritional info available. He asked what weight loss plan I was following, and with a wry shrug I told him I was simply trying to make sure my outgo exceeded my income.
He leaned in and in a conspirator whisper told me that he’d recently lost eighty pounds. My first instinct was to be slightly jealous as I admitted to trying to win my own weight battle for the past twenty years (so far), but he was so adorable and so encouraging and proud – I found myself feeling that way for him too. Here we were, two strangers, who suddenly understood something about one another. We were fighting the same fight, and travelling the same path.
He also told me he mostly avoided eating bread – that was his secret. Which, considering the fact that he works at a restaurant which specializes in bread made both of us chuckle.
He has thirty pounds left to go – and I sincerely wished him all the success in the world in achieving his health goals as he too wished me well.
It’s funny how you can meet these people, never to be seen again, but who can give you a little lift – a little encouragement, maybe even just a small confirmation that at least in that moment, on that day, you were doing what was best and healthiest for your body in a world that makes doing so into a consistently difficult task.