Hail Caesar (salad) !

For a little over three years now I have been working on changing my diet and lifestyle, one day at a time. At my age I figured it was about time. It’s not easy, but the potential outcome is so very worth it. I started my “Journey to Better Health” in December of 2006 when I began working with the people at the now-defunct LA Weight Loss Center in Oswego, NY. They looked at my weight, age, and lifestyle and set up a realistic dietary plan for the next 365 days. They changed my eating habits and schedules, and I added exercise periods into my weekly schedule. Over the course of the next year I introduced myself to new foods such as turkey burger, fruits & vegetables, and salads (not the macaroni or potato variety either) as just some of my new daily foods. And over that same one-year period, through this diet plan and moderate exercise, I lost 65 pounds! My primary care physician saw all of my medical numbers improve tremendously, and I felt great, not only health-wise but psychologically too. 

Over the past few years my weight has fluctuated, maybe gaining a little of those 65 pounds back, but then stabilizing at my current weight. Weight maintenance is not easy. There are so many temptations that can throw you off, and I honestly have fallen off the ‘skinny wagon’ many times. Portion size, exercise, and the recognition that you don’t have to cut out any food completely are three mainstays that help me in my “journey”. 

I don’t consider what I’m doing as a “diet”. I look at it as more of a “lifestyle change”, or without meaning to sound too deep, an “awakening”. Gone are my days of four Diet Cokes a day. No more Friday nights of getting pizza and wings. And perhaps the biggest change of all is no more snacking after dinner until bedtime. The deletion of those things and many more bad habits, balanced with a healthier meal plan and exercise, are now the way I ‘choose’ to live my life. Without making these changes I was running the risk of shortening my life dramatically; and that was something I wasn’t ready to accept. (Heck, I’ve got to write for you people.) 

Many times people think of diets as a penalty or sentence. With the plan I was working with, and the way I look at food today, I now never think of food as a negative. In fact, I now enjoy cooking more than ever at home. I also have found that grocery shopping is a lot easier. Did you know that you can save time and a bundle on money if you shop around the perimeter of most grocery stores? That’s where you find the fruits and vegetables, meats, breads, and dairy products. In the middle aisles are the Fritos, Apple Jacks, brownie mixes, and sodas. 

Eating out is not something that is impossible either when on a diet plan. Once a week I try to treat myself to eating out; whether it’s at a sit-down style restaurant, or fast-food. That’s right, I said “fast-food”. Eating healthy can be done anywhere. Over the past couple years I have jotted down the restaurants I’ve visited, up and down the Atlantic seaboard. And from local restaurants in Central NY to eateries found in between Boston and Key West, I’d like to tell you of some of my favorites. During this time one entrée has become my favorite to order when dining out – Chicken Caesar salad. I never was a huge salad eater and didn’t realize that something as simple as a Caesar salad could be prepared so many different ways, and have several different tastes. So, strap yourself in, and let me take you on a Chicken Caesar salad roadtrip. 

Starting first in our local area of Central NY, you can find a great Chicken Caesar salad at Oswego’s Press Box, Canale’s Restaurant, Ruby Tuesday, and the Port City Bakery. When it comes to fast-food restaurants, I’ve found that Quizno’s maybe makes the best fast-food Chicken Caesar salad around. With regards to some of the larger chain restaurants, I have found spectacular Chicken Caesar salads at Panera Bread, Cheesecake Factory, and the Olive Garden. There are only two places that I have visited that I wouldn’t place high on this list for Chicken Caesar salad, and that’s Applebee’s and Chicago Uno. Now that’s not to say that the restaurants general menus weren’t good. It’s just that I didn’t think much of the presentation and taste of their Chicken Caesar salads. 

Heading into New England I have found several great Chicken Caesar salads at some Boston establishments. Topping the list was Dolce Vita Ristorante in Boston’s North End and sitting 52-floors above Boston’s Back Bay is the Top of the Hub Restaurant in the Prudential Building. Not only their Chicken Caesar salad very good, but the view is breathtaking. I also have found several good Chicken Caesar salads in the Quincy Market district, including Ames Plow and Cheers. 

Into Florida Chicken Caesar salads continue to impress at several restaurants that I’ve visited. I found one of the most unique presentations at Disney World’s Saratoga Springs Resort. Their Turf Club restaurant makes a very tasty Chicken Caesar salad by giving you whole stalks of romaine lettuce and the other ingredients on the side. In the culinary world I think they would call this a “de-constructed” Chicken Caesar salad. Cool, very cool. But perhaps the best Chicken Caesar salad I have had at any restaurant is the one served at the ESPN Club at Disney World’s Boardwalk. One word- Perfect! Perfect size, perfect taste, perfect amount of dressing….you get the idea. And oh by the way, whenever possible be sure to order the Caesar dressing on the side. 

Finally as we finish this leafy roadtrip we come to the end of the line, literally. Key West. In the country’s southernmost city I have enjoyed many Chicken Caesar salads. (And I don’t think those were the margaritas talking either.) On the famous Duval and Front Streets of Key West sit some fantastic restaurants. Fogarty’s, Island Dogs, The Rooftop Café, Caroline’s, Red Fish Blue Fish, and The Grand Café all rest high on my list for great tasting Chicken Caesar salads and one-of-a-kind atmospheres. After all it’s Key West. What’s not to enjoy? 

Now I know that you may be thinking, ‘Is this poor guy a slave to Chicken Caesar salad the rest of his life?’ But that’s really not the case. When I go out I often will mix it up with wraps and light sandwiches for lunch, and fish or poultry for dinner. Having a Chicken Caesar salad is something I choose, and enjoy. 

So whether you’re in the midst of making some changes for yourself or know someone that is, the bottom line is- don’t punish yourself. Rather, relish the idea of getting the opportunity of trying new things. You’ll be amazed at the results. I know that if my dad were alive today he wouldn’t believe what my daily diets looks like. I was always the picky eater of the family. You know, pizza, burgers, steaks, and potatoes, …lots of potatoes! 

Please don’t think of what I’ve done over the past few years as being easy, it’s not. But also don’t think of it as being impossible either. As the old motto goes- “Heck, if I can do it…..”  It simply comes down to a matter of what you want for a quality of life. And for me, that made all the difference.

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