10/01/2009

Lori's Lines "Excuse Me! What Am I Ordering?"

By Lori Hartwell
 
Eating out is one of the life’s little pleasures. All the over-hyped food on the menu is designed to tempt you, right? When you are on a special diet, eating out can be challenging -- that is, if you are aiming to stay on your diet!
 
The tempting titles that adorn the menus turn your willpower to jello! Like Tony Roma’s special barbecue ribs boasting that tantalizing famous barbecue sauce of theirs. Or an Olive Garden culinary special, Chicken Scampi. Yum! I can just taste the chicken breast tenderloins sautéed with bell peppers, roasted garlic, onions in a garlic cream sauce served over angel hair pasta. And than they fill you up with all that hot bread and butter they bring to your table before your meal even arrives.  
 
But wait! Salt, potassium and phosphorus are critical to our health management as people with CKD, and we need to be mindful of what is in our food or we pay a big price.   Calories, trans fat, cholesterol, and carbohydrates are hiding everywhere, and we have to know what we are actually eating. 
 
When I eat out, I have a set of standard questions that I ask my server. One of my favorite questions is “what is one of your favorite items on the menu?” Immediately, I can tell if the server knows anything about the food they are serving. Their answer will guide me -- if I trust their opinion.  I can further my interrogation by asking them how the food is prepared.  How much salt does the chef or cook add and do they marinade the meat or vegetable in any type of sauce?    
 
Once I make my selection I am not afraid to ask for substitutions or for dressings or sauces on the side. I am a stickler for my meat being well done.
 
For many years, I was afraid to send a meal back. After all, I didn’t want to be a bother. Does that sound familiar?   One of my good friends who is a vegetarian taught me that this was not only not good for my health but it was also not good for the restaurant! Restaurants rely on repeat business and if my meal is not a savory experience, I may not return or recommend them to a friend. That is bad for business.
 
I remember the first time I sent a meal back. It was so salty that I chugged a glass of water to quench my thirst after just one bite. I summoned the server with an “Excuse me!” As she approached the table I politely asked her if she would mind changing my order to something less salty. Of course I had to explain that is was because I have kidney disease and my ankles swell up like water balloons. 
 
She responded that her Mom had the same problem with several diet restrictions of her own. She was happy to help me get a meal that would not cause me discomfort. 
 
So next time you are dining out, don’t be afraid to say, “Excuse me. What am I ordering?”  
 
Chronically Yours,
        Lori Hartwell,
        President & Founder of the Renal Support Network