Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Melting Pot - How I Eat At One of My Favorite Restaurants Without Blowing My Diet

In Dayton Ohio, for a night out with friends or a special date with your honey there are few places as fun (or romantic) at which to dine than The Melting Pot. Yes, it's a chain restaurant but it's always a special experience. There's just something about fondue that brings people together. Personally I think it's the way you get to torture your morsels of food by skewering them with a mini pitch fork and then boiling the heck out of them. Or maybe it's the allure of a pot full of chocolate. Either way, I go whenever I get the chance (or can afford to indulge).

The Melting Pot can actually be one of the easiest places to eat if you're smart about what you're eating. After all, you see everything being prepared right in front of you. You don't have that luxury at many other restaurants. Do not fear the 'Due! The 'Due is your friend! You just have to make smart decisions and track what you're eating.

When I started restricting my diet to around 1400-1500 calories a day I still wanted to eat at The Melting Pot, so I've devised a few strategies I wanted to share with the other fondue eaters out there who are also watching their waistline.

Pre-'Due Dinner Rules
  • Rule #1: Restrict your calorie intake earlier in the day -For me this means having my Shakeology for breakfast and maybe a Fiber One bar for a snack. If I'm at work, I'll eat my a salad with apple cider vinegar as dressing for lunch. Just watch yourself.
  • Rule #2: Work out ahead of time - Believe me, if you plan to work out after The Melting Pot you won't do it. So if you want to get a workout in do it first! This may also put you at a calorie deficit so you can relax a bit and enjoy yourself at dinner.
  • Rule #3:  Put on a nice outfit - I don't know what it is for me about wearing a nice dress but I'm more inclined to think of  what I'm eating if I'm looking lovely. Probably, I just want to make the dress fits when I'm leaving the restaurant.
At The Melting Pot
I am going to walk you through each course. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE EACH COURSE. I say that in big bold capitol letters because the easiest way to watch your calorie intake at The Melting Pot is to eliminate one of the courses. My personal favorite ones to eliminate are going  confuse a few of you, but often I'll skip the Cheese Course and the Desert Course. I happen to love the salads at The Melting Pot and the cooking styles of the entrees the most. But that's just me. Anyway, here we go!

If you have the willpower, skip the drinks entirely and opt for water. I don't have the will power so I've learned a few things:
  • Opt for Wine or Hard Alcohol - in a serving there are usually fewer calories than the cocktails on the menus.
  • Set a Limit Ahead of Time - plan the alcohol into your calorie intake in advance. Sometimes I'll even enter it into my Lose It App before leaving home for the restaurant.
  • Ask What Is In the Mixed Drink - if you have one, know what you're having. Picking the wrong cocktail can have you adding 300 calories you'd rather spend on chocolate.
The Cheese Course
I don't often skip this course because usually my companions want to want it. So if I don't have the option of skipping I follow these rules:
  1. Avoid the bread - I allow myself one or two pieces, but that's it.Sometimes I don't even let myself have that.
  2. Avoid the tortillas (if the cheese comes with them)
  3. Order Extra Carrots! - maybe for you it's celery, but the veggies here are your friend. Not only does less cheese stick to them, but there are fewer calories in a 1/4 cup of carrots than there are in those two pieces of bread you just skewered. (To get that picture to the right I had to purposefully glop cheese on that carrot - that doesn't usually happen naturally).
  4. Do Most Of The Talking - If you're talking you're not eating and your companions are consuming the tempting cheese. This is usually easy for me because by this time I've usually had my drink for the evening.
Cheese Fondue Tip: The fondue that has the lowest amount of calories per serving is  the Spinach and Artichoke (298 calories). Oddly, that's also my favorite. The Big Night Out Fondue a la France Cheese Fondue is 406 calories, and is the most calories per serving of any of the Cheeses. Think of the other cheese courses as being 350 calories and you'll have a good estimate.

Allergen Alert: While the Melting Pot is Gluten Free, the Cheese Fondue's do contain corn starch. Now corn allergies are rare, but my husband has one. We always wondered why we left at the end of the meal and he would be coughing. Thanks to the lovely waitress I had the last time I was at The Melting Pot, I now know the answer.

The Salad Course
This is honestly one of my favorite things about the Melting Pot because I am in love with their California Salad. There is something about the mix of walnut and Gorgonzola that I love, especially when topped with Garlic and Wine Seasoning. If you're on a diet chances are you already know my tips for this course:
  1. Get Your Dressing On The Side - Dip your fork in it and then eat of your salad.
  2. Get Your Salad Without Cheese - Yeah, I don't follow this rule because I love Gorgonzola too much.
  3. Load Up on the Garlic and Wine Seasoning - It's awesome and it has less calories than your dressing.
Salad Insider Tips:  The lowest calorie salad at The Melting Pot is the Spinach Mushroom Salad at 75 calories. The House Salad has the most calories at 211, but the House Dressing has the least amount of calories at 109 calories per serving. But if you're following Tip 1 and Tip 3 above you don't care about the dressing anyway.

The Entree Course
Most of the time if you've eaten the other two course and have gorged yourself silly on bread in the Cheese Fondue Course you aren't hungry by the time you get here. But if you're me, you've saved room because it's one of the best things in the world. The Entree Course is VERY underrated in my opinion. There is just something about the smell of the broth...

About Broth -  You probably aren't going to be drinking the entire broth they put in front of you, you're just going to be boiling your food. So the calorie counts for broth are pretty useless. Just count your calories of your meats/veggies conservatively and you should be fine. But if you want to know, your best options are the Court Bouillon or the Mojo Style (my favorite).
  1. Skip the Potatoes - Order more mushrooms or broccoli. The mushrooms are actually particularly good, so I try to overload on those. 
  2. Eat the Vegetarian Entree - You're under 400 calories for any cooking style for your entire entree (and they give you a ton of veggies and tofu). By the way, the Vegetarian Entree really picks up the flavor of the Mojo cooking style!
  3. Count Your Meats As Much As You Can - If you're eating meats, try to stick to the shrimp and the lobster tails, as those are usually the best calorie-wise assuming you don't have a seafood allergy. 
  4. Avoid The Ravioli and Pot Stickers - This is some of the best stuff, but if you can avoid eating them do so. You really don't know what goes into them and it could be a good portion of your calories. 
  5. Watch The Sauces - I am a Green Goddess whore. This has 66 calories per serving and worth every one of those calories (especially in mushroom caps). But your best bet is to stick to Teriyaki Sauce (15 cal), Plum Sauce (25 cal) or Tabasco (zero). The most calorie expensive sauce is the Garlic Dijon Butter (130 cals) so avoid it.
Entree Tip: If you eat your share of the Big Night Out Entree (French Quarter currently) expect to be eating at least 754 calories. You can help that by ditching the potatoes and gorging on the veggies. Eating the Entree is actually the easiest part of the menu for me because you can easily see what you're eating. Remember, 4 oz of chicken is about the size of your palm.

The Chocolate Fondue
Now this is a difficult course if you choose to eat it. Often if I go or Ladies Night Out it's not included and I won't get it. But if I do eat it, this is why I exercised earlier in the day! Like the Cheese Fondue course, the best strategy is to pace yourself and let your friends eat most of the chocolate. But here are my strategies:
  1. Skip the Cheesecake - It's good but it's not that good.
  2. Enjoy The Strawberries and Bananas - Like the carrots in the Cheese course, the chocolate won't adhere to the Strawberries and bananas as much.
  3. Spoon A Little Chocolate Onto Your Plate - Do not dip your items directly into the pot of chocolate. Control your chocolate intake by using your plate and just dip your items into what is on your plate.
  4. Marshmallows are Ok - Out of all the non-fruit things on the plate, this is the one I'd negotiate for if I were with my husband. 
  5. Know the Size of Your Pot - Chocolate comes in two sizes at The Melting Pot: Small and Large. If you're in a group of more than two people they'll often bring the large automatically. Ask for the small and get your friends to agree to it. Chances are they are stuffed if you've been eating the Big Night Out anyway. 
Chocolate Fondue Insider Tip: All of the options for fondue in this course are under  357 calories (that's the Cookies and Cream). Figure around 250-300 calories for any chocolate course and you're about right.

Last Words of Wisdom
The last time I went to the Melting Pot I ordered  2 glasses of white wine, the California Salad, the Vegetarian Entree (Mojo style) and had the Creme Brulee in Milk Chocolate. My total came to 1002 calories (if I counted correctly). No matter what you do, plan for at least a 1000 calorie meal. I had, so I was ok. I also want you to know that while I have been losing weight I've averaged going to the Melting Pot at least once a month and each time I've lost weight that week. One meal won't kill your week! Just be smart about it and enjoy your fondue!

About The Melting Pot Dayton
For the month of October, The Melting Pot Dayton is having Ladies Night Out on Thursdays to benefit Breast Cancer Awareness. Among the vendors are the lovely @Lillypea and @DreamOfBling Who I had the pleasure of meeting.

The Melting Pot Dayton
453 Miamisburg Centerville Road
Centerville, OH 45459-4753
(937) 567-8888