Eating Healthily in Restaurants (an insider’s guide!)

Hello! Goodness me, how on earth is it March. It was Christmas five minutes ago. Lets just take a moment to absorb that we are almost a quarter of the way through 2015. Yep. ONE QUARTER. But its a new month, another of the 12 new starts we promise ourselves each year, and your ‘third time lucky’ stab at your New Years Resolution to be the new and improved hybrid version of your already oh so fabulous self. SO. On that note, I can bet  my life’s worth (which isn’t a great deal more than the laptop I’m writing on, an economy seat on an upcoming Qantas flight, and a coffee-cup filled Peugeot 206 with no stereo I’m afraid) that a good 50% or more of you made the resolution to shape up and be healthier this year. Whether its for weight loss, general well being, or getting toned for summer, we all have such grand expectations at the beginning of the year, but more often than not, something gets in the way. Be it a friend’s birthday, a wedding, an emotional event, a break up, or just a bad day at the office, we always seem to find ourselves back in the arms of our favourite chocolatey snack, or reunited with the only man who ever truly stuck by us, Ronald McDonald (great guy, the cheeseburgers are just a happy bonus).

Anyway, working in a restaurant (spoiler alert, its Pizza Express), and being the nosey little ratbag that I am, I often find myself not-so-accidentally overhearing customers’ conversations about their weight loss flops, and the traps and pitfalls they’ve encountered. Having been on a fitness and healthy eating spur for almost a year now, during which time I have shed around two and a half stone and kept it off since September *takes bow*, I somewhat know my way around the ol’ nutritional values chart of the Pizza Express menu, so I am still able to take advantage of the free food they fling at us daily, without drowning in oil, cheese and carb heaven. BUT, with knowledge comes great responsibility. That responsibility being holding my tongue when customers order things that they THINK are healthy, but are actually marinated in a mountain of hidden calories. Ive found a few common patterns, and its incredibly difficult not to start reciting the nutritional value chart to every customer I hear is on a diet. They are out to dinner with a friend or their partner, they do not want to hear me bang on. If they do, they can ask. Thus, I keep schtum. But all this pent up frustration towards what people THINK is healthy, has lead me to this blog post. Here I will tell you the best ways to eat healthily at Pizza Express, and what to avoid at all costs due to the hidden calorie content!

STARTERS

The Pizza Express starter offering is similar to that of other popular Italian restaurant chains, and to some people’s dismay, yes, a lot of it is dough based (shock, we’re a Pizza chain). Obvious things to avoid are the Bruschetta, Bruschetta con Fungi, and Garlic Bread with Mozzarella. While delicious, they each use half a pizza dough, and are laden with pesto, butter based béchamel sauce, and fatty mozzarella (respectively).

The obvious healthy option is the Leggera Gambaretti Picante, coming in at only 200 calories per serving, packed with metabolism boosting chilli, and carb and gluten free. If you don’t eat prawns, switch them in for chicken (my trick as I harbour a severe seafood allergy!).

Now for the devil. The devil item on the starter menu is the Melanzanine. Served in an adorable mini al forno dish, this gluten free starter layered with vegetables sounds like your friend. NO NO NO. Do not fall for its charm. This starter is like the guy you met in that club one night that ended up playing you for three months. It is not what it seems. Inside that innocent looking al forno dish is layers of fatty mozzarella and oil, all neatly wrapped up in almost 17g of fat. The bad boy older brother of the devil starter is the Mozzarella and Tomato salad. Yeah salad. I was fooled too. How dare they call it a salad and then pack in THIRTY NINE grams of fat. Yep. 39. What you are actually eating is an entire full fat mozzarella ball, tomato slices, drizzled with oil and pesto. Sure, it tastes divine and feels light and fresh, but stay away from this if you’re watching the waist line for sure.

PIZZA

This is a fun one. A lot of people opt for the Classic pizzas, upon hearing that they are a meer 11 inches wide in comparison to the 14 inches that the Romana base boasts. What some waiters won’t tell you is that the same dough is used uniformly. The size difference purely depends on how far the dough is stretched. Conversely, some people choose the thinner Romana base thinking that’s healthier. Its actually a tad worse for you as you’re getting three extra inches of toppings. Similarly, the two pizzas topped with lots of vegetables on the menu, the Giardinera and Il Padrino, are both made with pesto bases, so while you’re getting your greens in, you’re also eating added fats from the pesto base, while the rocket topped Emelia and Rustichella pizzas top out at over 1000 calories due to their added truffle oil and caesar dressings. Most of the pizzas come in at around 750-1100 calories, depending on toppings, but thats not really here nor there. Pizza is what it is. I do however recommend trying one without cheese sometimes. Its actually not as bad as you think. But anyway, what I’m really trying to say here, is if you want a pizza, have a pizza. The low cheese Four Seasons stays under 700 calories, and the Veneziana and ever popular among young females Pollo ad Astra pizzas keep their junk packed in tight under 800 calories. The Devils: the Calzones, both topping 1100 calories each.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 23.05.26

menu_mains_calzone_salami

LEGGERA PIZZA

My issue is the poor lost souls who come in and have a tomato and mozzarella salad for starter, and then fall into the trap of having a leggera pizza for main course. Sure, this sounds healthy. The leggera range is all under 500 calories, its a half base of dough, rolled thin and with a hole cut out which is replace with mixed salad. The issue is, combining these 500 calories with the 450 from the starter, not forgetting those 39 grams of fat, you may as well have had a main course pizza!!

leggera pizza

SALAD

Its not news to you that salads are one to watch in restaurants, and Pizza Express is no exception. While the Superfood Salad and Salmon Salads stay true to their word at under 350 calories (roughly), I present to you The Devils of the salad offering: Pollo Pancetta Salad, Warm Vegetable and Goats Cheese Salad, and Grand Chicken Caesar Salad, which are all laden with rich Gran Moravia (like parmesan) cheese, dressings and worst of all, dough sticks. While dough sticks are a fine accompaniment to your main salad, if you’ve already had a dough based starter (garlic bread, bruschetta and so on as mentioned earlier), you’ve actually eaten an entire pizza base PLUS your dressing and cheese packed salad. If you’re having a starter, ditch your dough sticks and ask for your dressing on the side.

superfood

PASTA

The pasta category is a fun one. Generally, most guests watching their weight will completely ignore the pasta section of the menu, as its no surprise that these cheesey carby letharios are just waiting to sit firm on your hips and not budge for months. The Devils are the obvious Pollo Pesto, coming in at almost 1000 calories on a good day, while the main course sized Melanzane Parmigiana as mentioned in the starter section packs in almost 800 calories and 56g of fat (so yes, it is just as bad if not worse than the starter portion. Do not be fooled by its gluten free vegetable packed puppy eyes). However, most of us would probably, upon reading this, shun the layered favourite Lasagne Classico, too. However, sitting pretty at only 650 calories, and with the lowest fat content of all the pastas, this isn’t actually a bad choice if you fancy something a little bit naughty.

So, the lesson to be learned here, is THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX. Often what sounds healthy really really isn’t, and you can sometimes even have something totally gluttonous and indulgent for the same amount of fat and calories as your so-called healthy option!

I hope this has been somewhat helpful to people looking for healthy options at Pizza Express (though really all i’ve done is tell you that all your healthy ideas are rubbish).

What I’m trying to say is, you can totally eat out when on a calorie budget, but I hope this post will help you avoid the common pitfalls of what sounds healthy, and what you can actually get for your calories! Your favourite naughty meals are back on the menu! Buon appetito!

Over and out,

Coco xx