Lunch Break: Cosi

Nutrition expert Rebecca Bitzer shows us what to order and what to stay away from at Cosi. Topping her do-not-eat list? A dessert with enough calories to count for an entire meal.

Registered dietician Rebecca Bitzer says she’s always on the run. With practices in Greenbelt, Annapolis, and Columbia, she often finds herself looking for lunch on the road. One of her favorite stops is Cosi, the cafe famous for its salty flatbread.

When she orders, Bitzer keeps an eye on the ingredients and portion sizes. “It can be very easy to mistakenly choose a calorie-ridden meal that will throw off your entire day,” she says. A good rule of thumb is the plate method: If you visualize a plate, half should be filled with vegetables, a quarter should be protein, and the remainder should be starch. At Cosi, look for vegetable-heavy sandwiches and pizzas, and order simple salads with lots of protein. Oh, and don’t fill up on free bread while you stand in line.

Here are Bitzer’s picks for what to order—and what you should stay away from—at Cosi.

Do Order . . .
• Fire-Roasted Veggie sandwich: This vegetable-packed sandwich is Bitzer’s favorite menu item. It features roasted red and yellow peppers, eggplant, artichoke hearts, zucchini, squash, red onions, and romaine lettuce. The sandwich is topped with a feta-cheese spread but still clocks in at just 324 calories and 8 grams of fat. And with just 259 milligrams of sodium, “it’s one of the lowest-sodium options on the menu,” Bitzer says.
• Margherita Flatbread pizza: With twice as many calories as the sandwich, this pizza isn’t the lightest option, but it has a few things going for it: the basil, tomato, and fresh mozzarella provide essential nutrients without the addition of sugary sauces or fatty toppings. “To make this healthier, I ask for half the cheese and some added veggies,” says Bitzer. You can also opt for the thin crust, which saves more than 200 calories.
• Bombay Chicken salad: Salads can pack a serious caloric punch if you’re not careful (see Cosi Signature salad below if you don’t believe us!). But Cosi’s Bombay Chicken salad does it right, balancing a good mix of veggies (roasted peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions) with protein (tandoori chicken breast). Save yourself a boatload of fat, though, by switching up the dressing; Bitzer recommends exchanging the peppercorn ranch for fat-free balsamic vinaigrette.
S’mores: Bitzer likes Cosi’s make-your-own s’mores because you can easily control the portion size: Satisfy your sweet tooth with just one graham-cracker-marshmallow-and-chocolate sandwich, and you won’t need to add an extra notch to your belt.

Stay Away From . . .
• Steak TMB sandwich: This option with steak, tomato, mozzarella, and basil packs 55 grams of fat (including 19 grams of saturated fat) and 829 calories. It’s topped with a balsamic vinaigrette that accounts for nearly half of the calories. Says Bitzer: “The heavy dressing and lack of vegetables make this one of the worst choices on the sandwich menu.”
• Trifecta Flatbread pizza: It’s not hard to guess why this pizza made Bitzer’s do-not-order list: It’s loaded with sausage, bacon, and pepperoni. “Meat toppings make for the unhealthiest pizza options,” she says. The proof is in the pudding—er, nutrition facts: The Trifecta has 41 grams of fat, 17 grams of saturated fat, and a whopping 919 calories.
• Cosi Signature salad: You knew it was coming, right? Here’s the sad truth about everyone’s favorite house salad: “The pistachios, cranberries, cheese, and dressing are all high-calorie add-ons with low nutrient content,” says Bitzer. The salad has 611 calories, 45 grams of fat, and 19 grams of sugar. To be fair, the restaurant offers a “lighter side” version, which uses half the cheese and a reduced-fat sherry-shallot vinaigrette. It has half the calories of the regular salad and 19 grams of fat. But what about the sugar count? It’s even higher at 21 grams.
• Crème Brûlée Cheesecake and Double Trouble Brownie Sundae: It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that these desserts are bad for you, but the damage might be worse than you think. The cheesecake has 644 calories—that’s an entire meal right there—and 46 grams of fat, including 26 grams of saturated fat. According to the nutrition facts, that’s 117 percent of your daily value of saturated fat. The brownie sundae has 690 calories and a jaw-dropping 75 fat grams—113 percent of the daily value. And look at the small print: This dessert is technically two serving sizes, so you should double those numbers if you eat the whole thing yourself.

Subscribe to Washingtonian
Follow Well+Being on Twitter

More >> Health | Top Doctors | Well+Being Blog