How to Keep The Cheesecake Factory a Healthy Option

After millenia of waiting, our metropolitan area has just gotten a Cheesecake Factory. This makes my family quite happy, since up until now we’ve only had the pleasure of going there when visiting out-of-state family.

The Cheesecake Factory is one of those places that has the potential to sabotage healthy eating or to fit right into a nutritionally sound plan. Luckily, the restaurant does a super job of acommodating requests.

One of the potential dietary pitfalls presents itself before you’re even seated: when you wait a long time for a table, you can get really hungry. When you’re really hungry, you tend to order differently than you would if you weren’t quite so ravenous. Before heading to the restaurant, it helps to eat a low-fat cheese stick or a dozen almonds or a tomato or a few slices of apple. In addition to preventing you from super-hungry-ordering, it also helps protect you from the next potential dietary downfall: that bread basket.

Those warm, soft-on-the-inside, crunchy-on-the-outside loaves of yumminess are really hard not to plow right through when you’re famished. One of the loaves is whole wheat and the other is sourdough, both reasonalbly healthy choices as far as bread goes, but in moderation. And it’s quite difficult to be moderate when it’s sitting right in front of you. Ask your server to please not bring the bread until your meal arrives.

Order a glass of water or an unsweetened iced tea as you sit down at the table. Their regular iced tea is really good, as are the fruit-flavored ones (I especially like the passionfruit). Ask for a wedge of lemon or orange to go with your drink. The liquid will quench your thirst and make you feel less hungry as you peruse the menu.

And what a menu it is! Not quite as thick as a phone book, but it could use an index or table of contents. Their lower-calorie, lower-fat, higher-vegetable-content options are listed on their “SkinnyLicious” menu. I personally feel kind of like an idiot when I use that word, so I tend to point to the item in the menu as I’m ordering so I don’t actually have to say it. The items on this menu are here because of calorie count – many still contain sugar and refined carbohydrates. They are very good about substituting (regardless of what part of the menu you order from), so you can easily ask them to skip the rice and add extra veggies if you want your carbohydrate splurge to be a piece or two of the bread. By the way, if you haven’t tried it – the Tuscan Chicken is very good.

One of the things I love about The Cheesecake Factory is that they have excellent (and very big) salads. Again, they are very accommodating with requests, so it’s easy to substitute a little extra of one of the vegetables instead of the bacon, and to go light on the cheese, etc. They will also bring you olive oil and vinegar/lemon wedges/lime wedges instead of whatever high-salt, high-sugar dressing normally comes with it. And they’ll add basil, oregano, cilantro, or other herbs or spices if you’d like. Added bonus – since the olive oil is at the table, you can use it to dip your bread in rather than using butter, so you get healthy monounsaturated fats. On non-salad orders, ask for broccoli or mixed vegetables instead of mashed potatoes.

This is one of those restaurants where they definitely don’t skimp on portion size. Ask for a box to be brought to the table as soon as your meal arrives. Separate the portion of food you want to consume at this particular meal and put the rest in the box. This way you will get another meal out of it, you won’t accidentally eat until your stomach hurts, and your dollar will be stretched.

And now we get to the end of the meal and the subject for which the restaurant was named. They have good-tasting desserts, but they’re not really the healthiest choices. If you absolutely must have a piece of cake, order one piece and a fork for everyone at the table, and order some berries to go with it. Cut the cake into several pieces so that everyone can have a taste. If there is only you or one or two other people at the table, ask them to bring a small (half-sized or quarter-sized) piece. If the piece they bring is too big, take a two-or-three-bite sized piece for each person and ask them to take away the rest. Savor the bites. This helps your body stay used to portion control on this type of food.

Savor the tastes and textures of your meal and the voices and company of the people with you. Bon appetite.

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