Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Big Easy Tips

This is a guest post from Foodtrainers’ favorite nutrition nerd Lisa Ganguzza. Aside from our nerdom, Lisa and I are both “Green Wave” graduates. We felt we needed a post about the city that we love and all the great food. 

After a recent visit, Lauren and I discussed whether it’s possible to eat healthy in New Orleans, a food-centric city world-renowned for decadence. Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler, let the good times roll, are the guiding words for most decisions made in New Orleans. Unfortunately, many of those good times include deep fried meats and pastries topped with creamy sauces, and sugary “signature” drinks. But of course, in a city built on enjoying oneself, there are delicious options for those of us looking to leave New Orleans elated but not inflated. So from us to you, here are some Tulane Alumnae tips to enjoy eating in Nola, while still being able to enjoy your jeans on the flight home.
*These travel tips can be applied elsewhere. After all, if you can eat somewhat healthy in New Orleans, you can do it anywhere.

Breakfast: typical New Orleans breakfast items include cheesy grits, biscuits with gravy, Andouille sausage and eggs, and crab cake eggs benedict heavy on the hollandaise. Last time I was in New Orleans, I actually encountered praline bacon, a first but not a surprise. These things are all delicious, but we feel, when traveling it’s a good idea to start the day on track. You’ll have plenty of time to play later. Try egg whites scrambled with peppers, onions, and of course Crystal hot sauce;  substitute toast for the biscuit.

Lunch: whether you’re a tourist or a native, lunch items like muffulettas and po-boys tend to make it into the rotation. Since New Orleans is all about giving, muffulettas can be 8 inches in diameter, and po-boys a foot long, all for no more than $6 or $7. Needless to say, these are great items to share. Our #1 lunch tip: you don’t want your sandwich “dressed”.  Sandwiches should be naked or topless (we’ll explain). Dressed in Nola is code for slathered in mayo, so we would recommend asking to hold the mayo or the other “special sauce”. Standard po-boy fillings include fried chicken, fried oysters, fried shrimp, fried soft shell crab and fried catfish. We promise the grilled shrimp, fish, and chicken po-boys are just as good prepared with delicious Cajun spices and seasonings. Lastly, we’d recommend tearing off some bread (or removing the top so it’s “topless”) and enjoying a side of collard greens instead.  

Dinner: When you sit down for dinner in Nola, it’s difficult not to be distracted by the brass band playing in the restaurant, the patrons singing along that have been there since brunch, or the waiter chatting you up about your day, your week, and your year. Despite the festive and friendly distractions, be sure to really read the menu. Avoid anything “stuffed” and remember what we said about jeans above. The stuffed mushrooms, stuffed tomatoes and stuffed shrimp may sound healthy but they are stuffed with buttery crabmeat and creamy breadcrumbs. New Orleans is known for their amazing local seafood, and healthier dishes like bbq gulf-shrimp, crawfish etouffee, and oysters Rockefeller must be taken advantage of. You are sure to find 4 or 5 delicious grilled fish options on any menu. Just be careful when you “take sides”. If your entrée comes with a choice of sides, stick with the local favorites like gumbo and red beans and rice, corn maquechoux or jambalaya. You can get fries at home.  

Dessert: Bananas foster, crème brulee, and bread puddings dominate New Orleans dessert menus. Of course they are all delicious but we suggest having an Irish coffee instead. Order a dessert for the table if you must but we recommend saving the sweet tooth for a beignet. One note about beignets: it is worth the wait at Café du Monde versus surrounding imitations. 

Drinks: “Hurricanes” and “Hand Grenades,” the brightest red and lime-est
green drinks you’ll ever see, are ubiquitous on Bourbon Street. The surrounding French Quarter offers some better options. Sip on some sazerac or southern comfort with fresh lime juice, traditional and historic New Orleans drinks that can last you the entire night. Spicy Bloody Marys with fresh tomato juice and string beans are another great drink option. Whatever you choose, we recommend limiting the drinking so your meal choices aren’t governed by your hangover the next day.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, or late night lucky dog, New Orleans offers some of the most creative dishes you’ll ever find. So skip the buttered cornbread at every meal, and don’t fill up on boudin balls so you can enjoy a little of everything and leave the “big” in the Big Easy.
And so you know we didn’t spend our college days subsisting on egg whites and collard greens.
 Lauren loves Eggs Florentine at Commanders Palace, Abita’s Turbo Dog beer and the best crawfish in the world at Big Fisherman Seafood.
Lisa loves the Crab Claws Bordelaise at Palace Café, Fried Green Tomatoes at Jacques-Imo's  (and  jazz fest tents) and would fly this minute for the bronzed tuna or curried chicken salad at Café Rani. We do disagree on one thing Lisa would choose Purple Haze over “Turbo” any day.
What are your tips for eating healthy while away? What were your favorite college treats? And what’s your favorite thing about New Orleans?


  1. very fun post adore New Orleans for food

  2. Crawfish is very low in calories! :)

  3. AH i always thought that stuffed was a decent option! whoops. thanks for this info!

  4. Love this post! Two of my favorite healthy NOLA options are the salads from St. James Cheese Company on Prytania and the tortilla soup from Superior Grill. Yum!

  5. Great post! I've never been to Nola - but it's definitely on my list!

    Also - with the great variety of seafood there it seems like it would never hurt to ask for those items steamed and get some of the delicious sauces on the side.

    Thanks for all the great info!

  6. This makes me want to go to Nola right now! I love crawfish and also the blackened red fish at Jacqueimos!

  7. I can't wait to use these tips when I go to NOLA for Jazzfest!

  8. Some of my favorite NOLA memories involve eating w/ Lauren! All of my favorite NOLA memories involve food. I had the most sublime dinner at Emeril's eating at the Chef's Table in the kitchen soon after they opened. I can't remember my phone number, but I can tell you about each of the 12 courses we had in pornographic detail.

    The JazzFest 2011 line up is so good that we're strongly considering going. You can eat really healthy food at the Fest with little effort -- spinach salad, fresh strawberries, boiled crawfish, rosehip iced tea. And it's very possible to choose healthy choices around the city, too, with so many good seafood and veggie choices from the region. All this said, I'll admit that I've never tried to eat healthy in NOLA...hopefully this year will be different.

    Thanks for the great post. Makes me miss NOLA so much.

  9. I'm going to New Orleans in three weeks and I can't WAIT for oysters!

    Thanks for the post, it'll definitely come in handy on my upcoming trip!

  10. Haven't been to New Orleans yet, but planning to hit Jazz Fest this year. Cant wait to get down there and attempt to eat healthy....Great post, thanks for the tips!

  11. Love all the tips, Lisa! I don't have plans to go to New Orleans soon, but I'll keep these tips in my back pocket!

  12. I always recommend drinking vodka water with a splash of lime in New Orleans, keeps calorie count low and you can still drink with the best of them on Bourbon Street. God bless that city!

  13. I've always found it a challenge to eat healthy while in NOLA, these suggestions are great! Any particular restaurants you would recommend?

  14. This is such a helpful post, not only because it's giving a healthy spin on NOLA but it's also helpful from the point of view of a vegetarian :)

    And, so true: "You can get fries at home." Ha!

  15. Great post! I have never been to Nola, but I have been dying to go. It makes me jealous you guys had this great food in college. I had slim pickings in Bethlehem, PA. I think you make a great point though that you can enjoy local favorites and still be healthy. I hope I can use this info in Nola someday soon :)

  16. Great post. Have never been to New Orleans, but hope to go someday. Also, I imagine many of the tips here are applicable more locally. And college? I will not even reveal what I ate. Too gross :)

  17. I second the purple haze over turbo and raise you a seasonal abita strawberry lager.. Delish!

  18. I wish we'd known this when we were in college, Lisa!
    How about oysters on the half shell? I always assumed those were okay.

  19. Hi Lauren and Lisa. Thanks for all the great tips. I've never been to New Orleans but have always wanted to go. I love your comment on "dressed in NOLA." I'll have to remember that when I go. Cheers!

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  21. Because I have such little self control when it comes to saying "no mayo" or "I'll take it grilled instead of fried", I tend to go by this advice when in NOLA: Eat one huge amazing meal once a day (aka fried oyster po boy or muff), and don't hold back. After you've satisfied your cravings, it'll be easier to say no later in the day...

  22. Thanks so much for this. My son is going to Loyola and we were really worried about healthy living and food choices. After a weekend in New Orleans I became really worried --all I could see was really fattening and unhealthy choices. Didn't see a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. This article at least gave me a little hope. He will read it --since it's not his mom talking!!