Dining With Denise Neil

Dining healthy and dining out can coexist in 2016

Lotus Leaf’s pasta primavera substitutes zucchini noodles for pasta.
Lotus Leaf’s pasta primavera substitutes zucchini noodles for pasta. The Wichita Eagle

If your New Year’s resolution includes overhauling your eating habits, you don’t have to sentence yourself to a restaurant-free life.

Despite its cattle-country location, plenitude of buffets and reputation for oversized portions, Wichita’s dining scene includes restaurants that offer healthier fare – dishes that are locally sourced, organic, vegan or designed for low-calorie diets. More pop up all the time.

Gretchen Strathe, a registered dietitian who is also president of the Wichita Dietetic Association, said that patronizing restaurants that specialize in healthy fare is a good choice. But better dining out also can be achieved by monitoring portion sizes, she said. (The Dietetic Association plans to resume its “Positive Plate” awards, which recognize local restaurants for serving sensible, healthy fare, later this year.)

Although she likes salad-centric restaurants, Strathe said she also likes restaurants that serve smaller portion sizes and offer vegetables as a side over fries. She points to Public at the Brickyard, 129 N. Rock Island, which serves sensible portion sizes, and Hungry Heart, 222 S. Commerce, where she recently ordered green beans instead of french fries as a side dish.

“Eating out is tough because you don’t have the control you have in your own kitchen,” Strathe said. “It’s about being aggressive enough to ask restaurants how they prepare the food, asking for the dressing on the side and taking control that way.”

Here are some Wichita restaurants that specialize in healthier fare:

Lotus Leaf, 251 N. Washington, 316-295-4133, www.lotusleafwichita.com: Jacquelyn Keefer was an acupuncturist and massage therapist who was enrolled in paramedic school when complications from a surgery left her with devastating side effects, including memory loss. Nothing really helped her feel better until she revamped her diet and became hyper aware of her nutrition. “I started eating extremely clean, doing wheatgrass shots and taking my nutritional supplements,” she said. “Within a couple of weeks, I could tell a difference. Within a couple of months, I was almost where I had been before.”

She decided to share her knowledge with others and opened Lotus Leaf in Delano in 2010. She moved the restaurant to its larger location, next to Taste and See on North Washington, in April 2014.

Keefer’s menu focuses on clean food made with sustainable ingredients. The menu is full of vegan and vegetarian options but also has turkey, fish and chicken. It also has smoothies and desserts, including a vegan cheesecake. Among her best sellers, Keefer said, is a black bean/quinoa burger served on a wheat bun with lots of veggies, and a pasta primavera made using shaved zucchini in place of pasta. Her fish tacos, made with almond-crusted cod, also are popular with customers.

Lotus Leaf is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays.

Doc Green’s Gourmet Salads, 10096 E. 13th St. and 2441 N. Maize Road, www.docgreenswichita.com: Doc Green’s slogan is “Healthy as you wanna be,” and its two Wichita locations offer dishes that can be pared down to the veggie basics or fattened up for flavor. Manager Crystal Zitlow said the restaurant specializes in build-your-own salads, made right in front of the customers so they can see exactly what goes into them. The restaurant has 15 varieties of dressings to choose from and offers lots of lean meats, including grilled chicken and salmon. One of the most popular offerings: a Caribbean romaine and spinach salad topped with fresh strawberries, pineapple, grapes, cran-raisins and almond slices with an Asian sesame dressing.

Doc Green’s also offers salmon as an entree with side choices like a fruit cup, zucchini and squash or salad. One other interesting health fact: Doc Green’s stocks only low-calorie mayo. It took away the high-cal stuff years ago, Zitlow said, and no one noticed. The restaurants’ hours are 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Beautiful Day Cafe, 2516 E. Central, 316-977-9333, http://beautifuldaycafe.com: Echo Landscapes owner Charolett Knapic realized her longtime dream of opening a “locavore” cafe in May. The cozy restaurant has a menu filled with vegan, vegetarian, raw and gluten-free options, including veggie-fortified breakfast burritos, salads, sandwiches, veggie burgers and smoothies. In the spring, Knapic will turn a vacant lot next door into a garden that will supply vegetables for the kitchen and also will include a greenhouse and seating. A dreamy mock-up of the garden plan is posted in the restaurant. Beautiful Day Cafe’s hours are 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays.

Health food store cafes: Wichita’s health food stores also have delis selling healthy options. Among them are GreenAcres Market at 8141 E. 21st St. and 10555 W. 21st St. (www.greenacres.com). The east-side store has a deli that specializes in bierocks plus pot pies made with chicken, beef or vegetables, including gluten-free pies. It also serves hot foods including a long list of soups, quinoa or salmon croquettes, cod fillets and salmon fillets plus side dishes like tuna and white bean salad, curried cauliflower, beet salad and more. The west-side location also has the pot pies and bierocks and the deli items. Both stores have seating. They are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

There’s also Whole Foods Market at 1423 N. Webb Road, 316-630-8484, www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/wichita. This chain entered the Wichita market in September 2014 and also offers a large prepared food area that includes a deli, sushi bar and salad bar featuring food made with natural and organic ingredients with no preservatives or artificial colors or sweeteners. The market also has a seating area. It’s open 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Food trucks: Wichita has several food truckers offering healthier fare made with local and organic ingredients, and most of them are rotating out at the Pop Up Urban Park, 121 E. Douglas, throughout the winter. One is Kind Kravings, which is owned by Rochelle Collins. She lost both her parents to cancer in a five-year period, which turned her into an expert in holistic healing and clean eating. She decided to share her knowledge through a food truck that serves healthy, vegan food like veggie burgers, salads, portobello sandwiches, juice, smoothies and more. Mr Natural Soul Kitchen, owned by chef Donnie Hutchins, focuses on organic food made with local ingredients, and his menu often includes dishes like Moroccan lentils with winter squash and kale. And Garden of Eatin’, which in March will add a stationary restaurant in the old Cow and Sow Deli spot at 612 E. Douglas, offers health food items – salmon noodle bowls and salads – alongside comfort food dishes like chicken and noodles.

Tips for healthier dining out

Gretchen Strathe, president of the Wichita Dietetic Association, offers these strategies for healthier restaurant eating.

Ask questions: Don’t be afraid to ask the server about how the restaurant prepares the food.

Divide your plate: Try to make sure you’re ordering a balanced plate that has carbohydrates that come from whole grains, protein and non-starchy vegetables like broccoli and cucumbers.

Choose healthier side items: Go ahead and have the burger, but instead of fries, ask for a side salad or a side of vegetables.

Split entrees: Entrees in Wichita are usually big enough for two, so plan to share an entree with a dining partner. If you’re still hungry, add a side salad.

Do your homework: Most chain restaurants list nutritional information online. Before you go to a restaurant, see if you can find calorie, fat, sodium and carbohydrate counts and decide in advance what you’ll order.

Eat slowly: Your stomach doesn’t keep up with your brain, so eat slowly and stop when you feel satisfied – not when you’re stuffed.

For more information, check Strathe’s nutrition blog: www.littlerednutrition.com.

Restaurants with ‘healthy’ sections on their menus

Applebee’s: Offers a list of “pub diet” options like a cedar-grilled lemon chicken for 590 calories.

Olive Garden: Offers a “lighter Italian fare” menu with entrees that are 500 calories or fewer. Example: garlic rosemary chicken.

Chili’s: Has a “lighter options” section that includes dishes under 600 calories, like mango-chile chicken for 510 calories.

IHOP: The Simple & Fit menu offers meals under 600 calories, including a veggie omelet that has 340 calories.

Denny’s: Offers a Fit Fare menu that has meals that are lower in fat and calories. Example: the Fit Slam featuring egg whites with spinach and grape tomatoes, turkey bacon, English muffin and fruit for 550 calories.

Red Lobster: Has a Lighthouse menu offering items like rock lobster with 90 calories.