Dishing With Atlanta Author Carolyn O’Neil

Providing healthy meals for your guests can be as important as a stylishly set table.

Photo courtesy Carolyn O'Neil O'Neil goes to directly to the source for the best food facts by visiting farms and food producers so you can prepare the healthiest meals in your home. 

Though we’re known for serving up mouthwatering fried chicken and saporous sides with our butter, down south we don’t batter everything before we eat it. On the contrary: We’re a healthy bunch of folks who just so happen to like looking good in our bikinis.

Even though we’re pretty stubborn about our insistence that macaroni and cheese is indeed a vegetable, when people like Carolyn O’Neil speak we listen. When she writes we read. We’d be stupid not to because the registered dietician and award-winning author and journalist is smarter than us when it comes to nutrition. 

Photo courtesy Carolyn O'Neil Have your biscuit and butter it, too. The Slim Down South plan offers smart and easy ways to manage potential overindulgences all while maintaining a healthy weight. 

O’Neil’s expert advice can be found in Self, Shape, Cooking Light, Redbook, Family Circle and WebMD Magazine. She is also an adjunct professor of Journalism at Emory University, and her CNN reporting on food and health earned her three James Beard Foundation Awards.

And if she looks familiar, you might have caught her on the Food Network as “The Lady of the Refrigerator,” a recurring nutrition expert on Alton Brown’s hit Food Network program Good Eats.

Her latest cookbook is entitled Slim Down South: Eating Well and Living Healthy in the Land of Biscuits and Bacon. It’s full of your favorite Southern recipes prepared with much fewer calories and fat. 

FrontDoor caught up with O’Neil for advice when it comes to opening our doors for people, dining out and asked her about her favorite spots in Atlanta.

Q: Being on a diet and eating out is very difficult. What Atlanta restaurants are the most accommodating for dieters?  

Photo courtesy Carolyn O'Neil O'Neil often appears on Alton Brown's Good Eats as the "Lady of the Refrigerator." 

A: The majority of restaurants want their customers to be happy and listen to special requests more carefully than ever. But you have to know what you're looking for; so we all need some diner's education, sort of like drivers' education.

Making healthier choices when dining out starts with the customer not the kitchen. I find that I can dine healthfully in just about any restaurant by taking a look at the menu and seeking out salads that focus on vegetables and are prepared without a lot of cheese. I order a lean protein entree choice such as fish, grilled chicken, pork tenderloin or even a steak in a petite size and enjoy green vegetable side dishes. Ask for whole grain bread. Many Mexican restaurants are serving whole grain tortillas now, too. 

Q: What are you favorite places to food shop in Atlanta?  

A: I really like shopping at Publix supermarket because I know the layout. I love the variety of fresh produce and it's easy to find everything in the store because the employees are always asking [if I need help finding things].

Q: Can you describe a memorable meal that you had (or prepared) that was low in calories?  

Photo courtesy Carolyn O'Neil One serving of this dish has only 104 calories and four grams of fat. The recipe can be found in O'Neil's cookbook Slim Down South.

A: My first mission is to prepare a meal or enjoy a meal at a restaurant that has a lot of flavor and isn't loaded in rich sauces or gloppy cheeses. Having said that, I do enjoy French fries, which are fried properly at the right temperature so they're crispy not greasy. 

Q: Most memorable meal out? 

A: Fox Brothers Bar-B-Q. I get the pulled pork sandwich and a side of greens. The pork is tender and tasty and I eat half of the sandwich and take the rest home. I eat all of the greens.

Q: Memorable meal at home? 

A: I love roasting a whole chicken and stuffing the cavity with lemon quarters and Vidalia onions cut into quarters. I serve it with little yellow potatoes and green beans flavored with ginger and garlic. The recipe for the green beans is in my new book, The Slim Down South Cookbook: Eating Well and Living Healthy in the Land of Biscuits and Bacon

Q: If you're gonna drink with dinner (and being Southerners we probably are), what should you drink that is lower in calories?  

A: Champagne is my first choice at 78 calories per 4-ounce flute of bubbly. Or mix your spirit of choice (bourbon, vodka or rum) with non-caloric mixer such as sparkling water and add the zing of citrus such as a squeeze of juice from a fresh blood orange, grapefruit or orange- garnish with the same.)

Q: What's your go-to low-calorie menu item that also pleases? 

A: Roasted vegetables for sure. Roasting revived the world of Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. Tossed with a little bit of olive oil and dusted with salt and pepper; roast at 350 degrees until tender and browned a bit on the outside.

Q: Where is your favorite farmers market? 

A: Peachtree Road Farmers Market is my favorite and closest to me and I love the farmers, the friends and chefs I see there, and I get the best jewelry there. Wearing the earrings right now.

Q: Your favorite Atlanta restaurant on the cheap? 

A: Souper Jenny is healthy for your body and your pocket book and the folks are friendly too; it actually earns you some joy for the day.

Q: Describe an ideal day trip. 

A: I’d go to Woodstock, GA for the great restaurants including Vingenzo's, then the Leaning Ladder for great olive oils, vinegars, condiments. The Century Tavern also has great food, Fox Tales is the best independent book store in Georgia. 

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