At my last book club meeting, one gal expressed her disapproval of a service that shipped meal ingredients to her house along with a recipe that would allegedly produce a dinner in ten minutes. The preparation time in fact exceeded ten minutes. I wondered why she bothered “cooking” at all, being a litigator who runs her own law firm.
My husband is fantastic in the kitchen. I am incredibly fortunate to enjoy his handiwork on occasion. However, he is a professional who works hours such that these occasions have become few and far between. Cooking is a treat as opposed to the norm in our household. We eat out every day—every single workday, and most weekends—for every meal.
Back to my last book club: After my friend’s complaint about the longer than ten-minute prep time for her meal-in-a-box, my friends proceeded to complain in unison about trying to eat healthy, but having no time to cook. When I mentioned I manage to eat healthy enough while eating out, I felt their skepticism.
I have found it possible to eat healthy even while eating out every meal. Acai bowls and green smoothies are daily staples. However, I do have restaurant suggestions for anyone seeking solid, tasty food that I find clean, fresh, and relatively low-calorie.
#1 – Veggie Grill
My top recommendation in LA is Veggie Grill. With ten locations in the LA area, there is definitely one near you, with the notable exception of Downtown LA.[i]
Yes, Veggie Grill is a chain, but a good one. As the name suggests, all menu items are free of meat, dairy, eggs, and other animal products. Veggie Grill posts its nutrition information online[ii], with most sandwiches sitting between 510 and 600 calories.
Significantly, everything I have eaten at Veggie Grill tastes delicious and fills me up. My husband and I order dinner from Veggie Grill a few times a week, and the meals fill him up as well. I generally indulge in fries and dessert; however, if you can avoid those items, you can finish a meal in less than 600 calories and for about $13.
#2 – The Hive
If you are ever on the Westside and searching for a healthy meal, I highly recommend The Hive. I love this place. Located in Santa Monica, The Hive serves a number of healthy food options—I recently took my parents here, and there was something to please us all. I ordered my favorite, the original açaí bowl—which is one of my favorite açaí bowls in town. (I will dedicate a future post to my favorite bowls in LA. Stay tuned.)
My mom enjoyed one of the soups offered that day, and my dad the turkey wrap; both were satisfied. The Hive’s menu also boasts general crowd-pleasers like a breakfast burrito, avocado toast, and a selection of paninis. I appreciate that in addition to its food, The Hive offers a rich selection of organic smoothies and juices.
Dishes are between $10 and $13, and bowls are about $11 to $15. Juices and smoothies generally range from about $10 to $15, with outliers falling at $7 and $20.
#3 – Café Vida
For those craving meat and/or something generally less “intense” than The Hive, Café Vida in Culver City tops my to-go list. The food here is less obviously healthy, and I presume not shy on calories. However, it is undeniably clean and fresh, and for that reason I highly recommend it.
My favorite items at Café Vida are the breakfast sandwich melt, the garden avocado sandwich, and the spicy chicken soft tacos.[iii] The garden avocado sandwich (on the lunch menu) is one of my favorite sandwiches, period, in life; it contains fresh avocado, jack cheese, carrots, pea sprouts, butter lettuce, tomato, red onion, and basil mayo on 5-grain toast. My only complaint is I have been unable to order it on weekends (when the restaurant is instead serving its brunch menu).
Another perk of Café Vida: its juice offerings. Whatever meal I am eating there, I always order an accompanying juice, usually the pure green juice (fresh kale, spinach, parsley, celery, romaine, celery, cucumber, and lime juice). Like their food, this drink is clean, fresh, and delicious.
Items are generally between $12 and $15.
Thus, if faced with the prospect of preparing a meal-in-a-box or ordering pickup or delivery, to the extent one of these restaurants is in your neighborhood, I would definitely not bother with “cooking” dinner.