Myth or Fact: After bariatric surgery, I will need to order from the children’s menu

Daniel Cronk, MD

The best way to deal with eating out after surgery is to use a bariatric restaurant card and order from the children’s menu.

Anyone who has seriously tried to lose weight understands how challenging eating from a restaurant can be. Restaurants want repeat business, so they strive to prepare dishes that taste really good—almost addictive in many cases. Foods that hit all the right taste notes and create a rush from eating are often loaded with salt, fat, and sugar. Portion sizes also tend to be extremely large to create the perception of value from the restaurant experience. All of this is good for a restaurant’s business, but makes it challenging to not eat way more calories than we should when eating out.

So what is a post-bariatric surgery patient to do when at a restaurant? At the Erlanger Metabolic Center, we understand that dining out can cause anxiety for our patients. To help reduce some of that anxiety, we offer restaurant cards explaining that the card holder has had major surgery that reduces the size of the stomach, and asking the restaurant to give consideration to ordering smaller portions or off the children’s menu. While this card may help post-surgical patients feel more confident while eating out, I would argue that successful restaurant dining after surgery is more complex than just presenting the card and ordering off the children’s menu.

Let’s step back for a minute and think about the content of most children’s menus. They simply do not always contain smaller sized dishes of healthy foods from the regular menu. Rather, children’s menus tend to be full of “kid friendly” unhealthy foods (mac and cheese, breaded and fried chicken fingers, french fries, fruits swimming in sugary syrup, etc.) that kids will eat without complaint. Just because these items may be in smaller portions does not mean they are good for someone who has had bariatric surgery.

This leads me to challenge any restaurant diner to think more about the quality of food rather than just quantity. While nobody wants to be wasteful, I would argue it is far better to select a healthy meal and have food left over than eat a small portion of unhealthy food. I believe a diet consisting of largely unprocessed foods, lean protein, and vegetables is the key to maintaining weight loss even if the overall calorie count or volume of food is not that different than what might be found on a typical restaurant children’s menu.

Is the restaurant card we give to patients therefore obsolete? How are bariatric surgery patients to deal with eating out? We suggest taking a quick look at the children’s menu, and if it is full of unprocessed foods, lean protein, and vegetables, then go ahead and use the restaurant card to order off this menu if the restaurant allows. If the options are things you know you shouldn’t be eating, then put away the card and order something healthy off the regular menu. Does the regular menu not have anything that looks particularly healthy? Ask if the kitchen can prepare something simple that is healthier such as a simple sautéed chicken breast and some vegetables. Ask for vegetables instead of a carbohydrate laden side dish. Most restaurants are happy to accommodate these types of requests.

What can we say about our opening statement? I declare this one partially busted. The best way to eat out may be to order off the children’s menu, but only if the menu has truly bariatric friendly options.

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