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Lauren Rezende, RD

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Lauren Rezende, RD

Interview with Lauren Rezende, registered dietitian and Director of Nutrition at Healthy Dining. Lauren offers tips on how busy moms on the go can eat healthy. Learn more about making the right choices when dining out and preparing quick and delicious meals for your family and kids with these practical tips.

Why is it important to eat Healthy While Dining Out?

With the fast paced life that most of us live, eating out and eating on the go have become a way of life and somewhat of a necessity. More and more of us are eating out frequently, at least a few times per week or even daily. So, the food choices we make at restaurants play a vital role in our weight and overall health. The good news is that healthful selections at restaurants for adults and kids are on the rise! Here are some great suggestions for making family-friendly choices while dining out.

What should families and individuals consider when dining out?

It can be difficult to find restaurants that offer healthier options or even to know which options are really the best choices. That is what Healthy Dining Finder is all about. It’s an easy online tool that takes the guesswork out of eating at restaurants. Plus, it makes it fun for the whole family to enjoy Healthy Dining-approved and Kids LiveWell menu choices. Healthy Dining’s team of registered dietitians works with each of the restaurants featured on the site to approve and validate qualifying menu choices according to the Healthy Dining and Kids LiveWell nutrition criteria. The featured choices emphasize lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low fat dairy. Healthy Dining makes it simple to pick a healthy meal option, so all you have to do is enjoy it!

How can families use to make healthier choices while eating out?

It’s easy. Just log on to Healthy Dining Finder and type your ZIP code or city and state into the search box. You’ll then access a list of restaurants in your area that participate in the Healthy Dining Program. Click on the restaurant’s logo to access a page that details the menu items that meet qualifying criteria with corresponding nutrition information (calories, fat, etc.). If the restaurant has Kids LiveWell menu choices, you’ll find a listing of those options, as well. The site also provides lots of healthy tips and strategies from our dietitians.

When dining out, what are some of the menu order modifications you have requested to the server?  Can you provide three examples? 

Don’t be afraid to make “Special Requests” at restaurants. Special requests can be made to accommodate both taste and dietary preferences. Here are some examples of Special Requests that I make while eating out:

  • Salad dressings and sauces on the side:  Salad dressings often contain a lot of calories and fat, so I usually request the dressing on the side, and then I add it sparingly myself. Likewise, sauces such as teriyaki are typically high in sodium, so request these on the side and add small amounts or lightly dip each bite into the sauce.
  • Whole grains instead of refined grains: Ask for substitutions, when possible, like brown rice instead of white rice; whole grain bread instead of white bread, whole wheat pasta instead of regular pasta. Whole grains contain more fiber, vitamins and minerals than refined grains.  More and more restaurants are offering these products, and the more people request them, the more often these great healthier options will be available.
  • No added salt: Restaurants cannot change their bulk recipes (i.e., large batches of sauces, marinades, etc.), but they can accommodate your plated order with a simple request of “no added salt.” This means they will omit the last minute shake of salt on dishes such as eggs, chicken, vegetables, and even salads!

The portion sizes at restaurants are often very large, and it is tempting to eat everything.  What are your suggestions for controlling portion size while eating out?

When you order your meal, you can ask for a to-go box before you begin eating. Put half of the meal in the to-go box and enjoy it for lunch or dinner the next day. You can also split the meal with someone else. Not sure what portion sizes are appropriate for kids? Find out here. 

What are some important questions you would want to ask your server about how the food is prepared? 

If the menu does not state how the dish is prepared (sautéed, baked, fried, etc.), then it is definitely a good idea to ask questions. Avoid deep fried items and opt for dishes that are baked, broiled, grilled, steamed, stir-fried or lightly sautéed. You can also request that for sautéed and stir-fried dishes, the chef go easy on the amount of oil or butter used.

When you are really busy and have to put together a meal in minutes, what is something that you will prepare? 

As a working mom with two small kids, most of the meals I prepare are done in a short amount of time. I will typically make something like whole wheat or quinoa pasta with tomato sauce and chicken breast. I then add in few vegetables with the pasta, such as zucchini, broccolini and peas. Other nights we will have baked salmon, salad, and brown rice (there are some great frozen varieties of brown rice you can microwave, and they are ready in minutes).
I always try to have a pantry and refrigerator stocked with healthy go-to ingredients (canned beans, frozen & fresh vegetables, whole wheat spaghetti, low-fat yogurt) that I like to use while cooking. This way, instead of stopping by the store after work, I can save time and start cooking right away as I already have needed ingredients to make a healthy meal. Here are some pantry essentials to always have on hand.

When cooking at home, what are some of your favorite recipe blogs or websites?

What are some of your favorite dessert recipes?

I definitely enjoy baking and love to have healthy and great-tasting baked goods for my kids and I to snack on. I have an oatmeal cookie recipe that uses 50% whole-wheat flour and contains cocoa, dark chocolate and non-fat yogurt. A great way to satisfy my frequent chocolate and sweets cravings!

What should parents know about a new national restaurant initiative called “Kids LiveWell”?

The National Restaurant Association, in partnership with Healthy Dining, launched Kids LiveWell to assist parents and children in selecting healthful menu options when dining out. This initiative is a great voluntary program through which restaurants commit to offering healthful menu items for children. The featured menu items meet specific nutrition criteria for calories, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and sugar. Also, all Kids LiveWell entrées must contain at least two of the following: lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy, so by supporting these restaurants you know you’re getting a well-thought-out healthy meal option.

For a complete list of Kids LiveWell restaurants and dishes for your family to try, visit

As a busy mom who is also juggling a career, how do you fit in healthy eating and fitness?

With kids and a career, I have really had to commit to prioritizing exercise. Scheduling flexibility is key; sometimes that means getting up really early for a walk or going to a late night yoga class. Making time for exercise is important for all moms because you have to take care of yourself in order to take care of your kids!

For my family and me, healthy eating involves planning ahead as much as possible. I try to do all of my grocery shopping on the weekends so that I have all of the ingredients necessary to pack lunches and to make those time-crunched weeknight meals. For those weeknights when I go from work to pick up my kids and then to soccer practice, we will swing into a restaurant that offers Healthy Dining and Kids LiveWell meals – which is so helpful for giving kids an on-the-go healthy meal!

As Director of Nutrition, Lauren conducts and supervises the nutrition analysis of thousands of restaurant meals from the diverse roster of Healthy Dining restaurant partners, as well as oversees allergen and gluten-free projects. Additionally, she plays a key role in leading the validation and verification process for the Kids LiveWell Program, working with Healthy Dining’s culinary nutrition specialists to continually add a wide variety of Kids LiveWell choices that meet strict nutritional criteria.

Lauren is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in public health from the University of California, Los Angeles and a bachelor’s degree in foods and nutrition from San Diego State University. Prior to joining Healthy Dining, Lauren worked in clinical dietetics and held college-level teaching positions at San Diego State University and community colleges, teaching sports nutrition, advanced nutrition and food science courses. Lauren is the proud mother of two beautiful boys and in her “spare” time, is a devoted Iyengar Yoga practitioner.

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