According to the National Restaurant Association, Americans spend 48% of every food dollar away from home. About 75% of adults report trying to eat healthier while they’re out. That’s not always easy dining on ethnic foods—whether it’s trendy cuisine from the Caribbean, northern Africa or Thailand, or the more traditional Italian, Chinese and Mexican.
When preparing nutritious ethnic meals, limit fats (e.g., oils, sauces), salt and sugar in food preparation. Limit food portions (e.g., three ounces cooked meat), and include high-fiber fruits, vegetables (steamed or stir-fried), beans, lentils and whole grains (e.g., whole-wheat pasta and bread, brown rice, kasha, bulgur).
Here are other tips to follow:
1. Include moderate amounts of skinless poultry, lean meats (trim visible fat), fish and low-fat dairy products (e.g., cheese, yogurt, milk).
2. Bake, broil, boil, stew, steam, grill, poach, roast or stir-fry foods instead of frying.
3. Prepare fat-free marinades with fruit juice, tomato juice, low-sodium soy or teriyaki sauce, nonfat yogurt, wine, vinegar or fat-free broth with a variety of herbs and spices (e.g., garlic, ginger, turmeric, cumin). Allow one-fourth to one-half cup of marinade for one to two pounds of meat.
4. Replace high-fat sauces (e.g., butter, cheese, cream) with low-fat salsa, low-sodium teriyaki or soy sauce, fruit or vegetable chutneys, wine or marinara sauce.
5. Add chopped or pureed vegetables or mashed beans to sauces. Serve sauces, toppings (e.g., low-fat sour cream) and salad dressings on the side.
Menu guidelines: Here are low-calorie, low-fat and low-sodium menu suggestions for tasty ethnic meals:
- Chinese: Offer won ton or egg drop soup and beef, chicken or shrimp chop suey, lo mein, chow fun or chow mein. Serve steamed spring rolls, dumplings (dim sum) and pancakes (moo shu). Offer white or brown steamed rice instead of fried rice. Stir-fry vegetables like broccoli and bok choy with tofu (soybean curd), lean pork or beef, chicken or shrimp. Use low-sodium soy sauce.
- French: Offer poached or steamed fish, roasted chicken, onion soup (low-fat cheese), pot au feu (stewed chicken), “en papillote” dishes (in steamed paper), salad niçoise (tuna), steamed vegetables, mussels or fish dumplings (quenelles). Substitute wine sauces for high-fat sauces like béchamel, béarnaise and hollandaise.
- Greek: Offer Greek salad (limit feta cheese and olives), tzatziki (low-fat yogurt with cucumbers and garlic), shish kebab (skewered grilled meat or chicken and vegetables), gyros (lamb and beef with vegetables) or plaki (broiled fish). Limit olive oil.
- Indian: Offer baked breads (chapatti, naan, pulka, kulcha, roti), dahl rasam (pepper and lentil soup), curry dishes (made with spices and low-fat yogurt), tandoori or tikka chicken or seafood (baked in a clay oven), dahl (lentils), basmati rice, dohkla (steamed bean and rice cake), or spicy chicken, lamb or beef masala (yogurt marinade), bhuna (tomato and onions), saag (spinach) or vindaloo (potatoes). Limit saturated fat like coconut milk and ghee (clarified butter).
- Italian: Offer pasta e fagioli (white bean) soup, pasta with marinara or clam sauce, risotto (arborio rice), polenta (cornmeal), focaccia (flat bread), chicken, veal or shrimp primavera (vegetables), marsala (wine) or piccata (lemon), spinach lasagna (low-fat cheese), baked gnocchi (dumplings) or thin-crust, whole-wheat pizza topped with vegetables and low-fat cheese.
- Japanese: Offer edamame (steamed soybean pods), shumai (shrimp dumplings), sashimi (raw fish), su-udon soup (broth with wheat noodles), seafood salad with lemon or miso (fermented soy paste) dressing, steamed white or brown rice, simmered (nimono), grilled (yakimono), steamed (mushimono) or broiled (yaki) chicken, beef or fish with stir-fried vegetables or nabemonos (stews like sukiyaki made with beef, chicken or fish, noodles and vegetables). Use low-sodium versions of sauces (e.g., soy, teriyaki, miso).
- Mexican: Offer gazpacho (chilled tomato) soup, ceviche (marinated raw fish), Mexican salad with a soft tortilla shell, Mexican rice with beans, chili, chicken, beef, seafood or vegetarian (bean) tacos (soft shell), tamales, enchiladas or burritos, arroz con pollo (chicken with rice) or chalupa (cornmeal topped with chicken, meat or beans). Serve red or green salsa and pico de gallo (spicy tomato/onion relish).
- Middle Eastern: Offer avgolemono (egg and lemon) soup, ful (brown bean casserole), baked eggplant stuffed with vegetables, couscous (steamed wheat), pilaf (rice) dishes, shish kebab, lamb-vegetable stew or fattoush (salad with pita bread). Limit olive oil used to make tahini (sesame seed paste) for hummus (chickpea spread) and baba ghanoush (smoked eggplant dip). Serve with whole-wheat pita bread.