I love that many restaurants and food chains offer up nutrition information—on the actual menu or on their company website. I like knowing that scrumptious-sounding salad is actually a healthy choice or if the dessert I'm eyeing will blow my calorie budget.
But some restaurants don't offer nutrition information. And, according to a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the average meal at an independent or small chain restaurant is 1,300 calories. (At least in Boston, where the study was conducted.) Some even delivered 2,000 or more calories. Yikes!
So how can I—and you—not eat a whole day's worth of calories at one meal? One of the easiest ways is to steer clear of items described using words that indicate ingredients or cooking techniques that are high in calories, saturated fat or added sodium or sugar. You're probably familiar with some of the biggest offenders: fried, creamy, buttery, cheesy, loaded. But others may require some detective skills. Of course, every restaurant is different, so if you have any questions—or doubts—about how an item is cooked, ask your server to explain the preparation. Here, we've decoded some of the most common calorie-loaded and fattiest words to avoid on restaurant menus:
A la mode: In the U.S. this is code for topped with ice cream.
Aioli: A fancy word for a flavored mayonnaise.
Au gratin: Means cooked with butter and/or cream and topped with cheese or breadcrumbs.
Battered: Coated in batter and then typically deep-fried.
Béchamel: The base of most white sauces, made by stirring milk into a butter-flour roux. Fun fact: This sauce was named after Louis XIV's steward, Louis de Béchamel.
Beurre Blanc: Or white butter; this is a sauce made of a wine, vinegar and shallot reduction and butter.
Béarnaise: Another butter-based sauce, thickened with egg yolks and flavored with white wine and tarragon.
Bisque: A thick, rich soup usually made with cream.
Breaded: Like battered, breaded means the food is coated in breadcrumbs and fried.
Confit: When this word is used to describe a meat, it means the meat was salted and cooked in its own fat.
Carbonara: A sauce that includes cream, eggs, Parmesan cheese and bits of bacon.
Crispy: This is a nice-sounding way to describe something fried in oil.
Crunchy: Like crispy, this usually means fried, unless it's describing vegetables, in which case the vegetables are typically raw.Deep-fried: The food is cooked in hot fat and submerged deep enough to completely cover the item. Shortening, lard or most oils are used for deep-frying, but not butter and margarine.
En croûte: This means wrapped in pastry dough and baked.
Fritters: A synonym for battered and deep-fried.
Golden: This usually means fried unless used as an adjective (e.g., golden beets).
Hollandaise: A sauce made of butter, egg yolks and lemon juice.
Pan-fried: Like sautéed, this seems like a healthier choice, but depending on what your food is pan-fried in (ahem, a generous pat or two of butter) it could easily be loaded with calories.
Refried: This typically is used to describe beans, in which case the beans (red or pinto) are mashed, then fried (usually in melted lard).
Rémoulade: A sauce made of mayonnaise and mustard, capers, gherkins, herbs and anchovies.
Roux: A mixture of flour and fat (butter, drippings or pork or beef fat) that's used to thicken mixtures, such as soups and sauces.
Sautéed: This sounds like a healthy choice (sauté means to cook food quickly in a little bit of oil or fat over direct heat), and it may be, but it depends on what (oil, butter) and how much your food is cooked in.
Scalloped: Mostly used to describe potatoes. Scalloped potatoes are thinly sliced potatoes cooked in cream and butter and topped with cheese.
Scampi: In the U.S. this is shrimp cooked in a garlic and butter sauce.
Smothered: Usually this means covered in a heavy sauce or cheese.
Stroganoff: Beef, onions and mushrooms are sautéed in butter and covered in a sour cream sauce.
Tempura: A Japanese version of batter-dipped and deep-fried.
Terrine: A terrine is made of small pieces of cooked meat, fish or vegetables pressed together into a type of cooking dish also called a terrine. When a terrine is made with meat, it is also known as a pâté, which is traditionally made with pork fat.
White sauce: A synonym for cream sauce.
What words do you avoid on restaurant menus? Tell us what you think below.