Tag Archives: portions

Healthy Dining Out: The 50% Solution

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I used to eat really fast when I felt hungry.

I think it was because if I hadn’t eaten much all day, I needed to eat as quickly as I could to make the “hunger” feeling go away. {Even though we all know it takes the brain at least twenty minutes to determine that the stomach is full.} Furthermore, if I had something “bad” in the house, I’d try to finish off the package as quickly as possible, which could be a couple of hours or a couple of days. This would mean it would be out of the house and I wouldn’t be tempted to eat that bad food later. What kind of thinking was that?

I’ve been changing this relationship with food.

You may know by now that I’m a Francophile. I do love that in French and Italian cultures that food is supposed to be about pleasure. It’s about the quality of food, not the quantity that matters. Furthermore, these two countries have some of the healthiest lifestyles in the world and don’t seem to have the obesity problems that we do in the U.S.

We can still enjoy great food – just in smaller quantities.

Nothing I eat now is off limits. It takes away the overwhelming desire to want to eat something just because I “can’t”. I let myself eat anything now. It’s maybe not always the healthiest food, but I don’t eat a lot of it. It’s just enough to satisfy the taste that I {sometimes think} desire. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because it’s been a huge piece to the weight-loss and healthiness puzzle for me. When I came across this article this morning, it reinforced my beliefs on this subject.

Dining out is one of those things that’s often off limits on many diets. However, now that I don’t limit myself to eating at home, it’s not that big of a deal anymore. We dine out at least twice per week. To me, each time I go out, it’s “practice” for the next time. What is on the menu that is healthy, but will satisfy me? Still, menu items that seem healthy can be served in extra large portion sizes or with hidden ingredients such as too much oil, butter or even lard slathered over the top.

Healthy Dining Out Tip:

I got this tip from the author of French Women Don’t Get Fat. My friend Stacey, who shares a love of finding good quality restaurants, gave me what I believe was Mireille Guiliano’s second book: French Women for All Seasons. While this book focuses on how to eat seasonally to eat the best quality ingredients, one tip that I picked up and have put to use that she discusses is:

The 50% Solution

Simply put, the purpose of the “50% Solution” is to force you to be more mindful of your portion size. And because we all know that restaurant portion sizes can be astronomical, it really does come in handy when dining out and can keep us from stuffing ourselves silly. This is where I like to practice it most.

Here’s how it works:

When you are dining out, Guiliano says to ask yourself if you can live with half the amount being offered. When you first try this, you might think, “No way! I’m starving!” But try to resist those thoughts and eat only half of the portion; and eat it slowly. After you have eaten half the portion, Guiliano says to stop and ask yourself if you are content and if continuing would be a matter of pleasure or routine.

Quite often, half of the portion is enough. If you need to continue, so be it. But you just might be surprised. If you decide to keep going, you need to repeat the process. Eat half of the half, then reevaluate. In theory, if you continue repeating this process, you will never eat the entire thing. You could even add a five-minute waiting period or drink a glass of water between each “half”. Think of it as “half-time”. When you are paying this much attention to it, deliberately stopping and reflecting before continuing, it makes all the difference in the world.

Consider this, Guiliano says, “In terms of taste, contentment can be found in the first few bites.” I don’t remember where, but I once heard that people only really taste (or pay attention to) the first three and last three bites of anything they’re eating. The stomach is what says,”that’s enough”, but it’s oftentimes too late.

When we first tried the 50% Solution, we ordered a Side Special at the Bloomington ChopHouse: the Pavé Potato. This was a six-inch square portion of layered potatoes about two or three inches high with asiago and parmigiano reggiano. In fact, it was so huge that we took half of the portion and then split that into two halves, one for each of us. They were creamy, cheesy and oh-so-decadent. I savored each bite slowly. I hate half of my half and then half of that half. {Uh, does that make sense?} I pushed the rest away. I am pretty sure that the server was confused when he took away our huge plate of leftover potatoes. He probably thought we didn’t like them. But I loved them! It’s probably been a year since and I haven’t forgotten them!

This past week, I ordered some fish tacos at restaurant. (Impression to come soon!) Most people would think two tacos wouldn’t be enough to fill anyone up. But I only ate one (and the side salad):

Mahi Mahi tacos

We had some sautéed mushrooms on grilled bread as an appetizer, so I didn’t need much more. What’s more, is that the second taco tasted excellent for lunch the next day without being re-heated!

If you want more fun tips like this, please check out Guiliano’s books and website.

I know I’ve already given you one challenge for this weekend, but I’d like to give you another: Give the 50% Solution a try this weekend when you are out. Then report back how it worked for you!

Cheers~
Carrie

Quality over Quantity

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I know a few people who’ve complained about portion sizes restaurants.

I’m talking about those who say that portion sizes are too small.

THE COMPLAINTS

Sometimes the complaint is paying $15 – $20 for an entrée when all that was served was a “small” piece of meat over some vegetables or something. Other times it’s that a particular casual restaurant has scaled back on the gargantuan portion sizes, but not the prices. Either way, these people feel cheated.

But we all know that restaurant portion sizes in the U.S. are way over the top. It’s a very rare occasion when anyone eats a low-calorie meal when dining out. In fact, most restaurant portions are enough for two, three, even four servings! Even when I’m practicing eating well out at a restaurant, I know that I’ll still go over the number of calories I allot for any regular self-prepared meal. So I plan for it. I make sure I have lower-calorie, high fiber foods that day to keep me full enough that I don’t feel “starving”, but to still allow me a little wiggle room when dining.

For me, I prefer Quality over Quantity.

PORTION SIZES

I really do like the higher-end restaurants where the portion sizes for each course may seem small, but I never feel stuffed when leaving. The food may be more expensive; but in these places, the ingredients are often fresh, high-quality ones instead of those out of a can or from the freezer. The chef takes extra special care to season them, concocting a dish from scratch into perfection. I can take time to savor each bite of the food. To me, that’s worth the money.

Sure, you can always take leftovers home; but some things just do not taste good when reheated. Still, some of us just keep eating because it’s there; eating until it’s gone – leaving no leftovers on the plate. A tip I’ve heard is to have your server box up half the food before it’s brought to the table. It’s a great idea, but I’m all about the visual experience as well. So how would the plating look? Am I taking away some of the chef’s creativity? That’s something I’d never do in France! As a Francophile, I know that would offend the chef. Besides, I rarely get a portion size in France that’s so big that I need to box it up. I don’t even know if regular restaurants in France have what we once called “doggie bags”. {And think about that. What were the leftovers originally meant for?!}

But really, who needs a 15-ounce steak? Is it really necessary for me to consume a baked potato the size of my head? I’d rather have smaller-sized dishes than a big slop of something mounding my plate, making me *think* I’m getting a deal. But is it a really a deal if I mindlessly eat most (or all) of it just because it’s there? I guess the extra money I’m paying for restaurants with smaller portions is actually payment for their service in helping me with portion control!

This is not to say that just because you go to an upscale restaurant that serves smaller portions means, it means that the food is going to be great. Any restaurant can fail with improper execution or a blah menu. We’ve found that some restaurants under season their meat, or don’t season it at all. SEASON IT ALREADY! Others overcook their pasta. And sometimes, flavors are just not to our liking. But that can happen anywhere.

PASTA

Let’s discuss pasta because I’m picky about my Italian restaurants! Part of it may be that I’ve been to Italy and I know what good Italian food should taste like. In the U.S., so many places overcook their pasta. It should be al dente (to the bite). The primary theory detailing why pasta is best served al dente is so that we are forced to chew it more. If it’s cooked soft, we chew it less and just swallow it. It’s easier to eat more; therefore, we make the stomach do more work trying to digest it. That big lead ball you may sometimes feel in your stomach after eating pasta? It could be that the pasta was cooked too soft and you ate it too fast. {Or you just had too much.} In addition, pasta that is cooked al dente has a lower glycemic index than pasta that is cooked soft.

Here’s the other thing: Pasta is a cheap ingredient. Many restaurants take the easy way out by just putting a pile of pasta on a plate or in a bowl and calling it your meal. You think you are getting a good deal with such a large portion. But in Italy, it is a course of its own – a little bit of pasta before the meat entrée. Instead of a pile of noodles on my plate, I’d rather the chef add some good high-quality spicy sausage, some San Marzano tomatoes, some fresh seafood. I stay away from the Italian restaurants that have offer only run-of-the-mill dishes on their menus: spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmesan, fettuccine alfredo. Blech.

DESSERTS

I like my desserts to be almost bite-sized, or consumable in just a few bites. By the end of the meal, I’m no longer hungry and just want a little sweet treat on my palate. Not too long ago, I ordered a piece of chocolate cake in a nice restaurant. I guess I was picturing a small, short slice of cake that I could have a couple of bites of and be satisfied. Instead, out came a I’m-gonna-out-do-the-other-chain-restaurant piece of cake that could only “wow” someone by sheer size. It tasted horrible.

I would honestly rather have a dessert that is just a few bites… or one scoop of ice cream. Something that will satisfy that end-of-the-meal sweetness craving. And it’s always a good idea to share. But even a huge tasteless cake isn’t worth sharing. I want high-quality ingredients and flavor! Forget how big it is!

WINE

Okay, so I’ll save this for a post of its own. 🙂 But after my recent post on calories in wine, let’s just say that if I’m going to spend my calories on wine, I want it to be worth every drop.

So, for anyone who argues that “you don’t get very much for the money” when receiving smaller portions, you can bet that I do! I get high quality ingredients, a chef that actually cared what (s)he was preparing, flavors I can savor, and portion control. {The lack of stuffed stomach that can last several uncomfortable hours into the evening doesn’t hurt either.}

Instead, remember the real reasons you are dining out:

  • to fuel your body
  • to taste the food
  • to enjoy the company and good conversation

Quality over quantity will make a difference every time.

Cheers~
Carrie

W. A. Frost – St. Paul

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After our Restaurant Week failure last Thursday, we had to find another option. From Minneapolis, we ventured across the Mississippi River to St. Paul and just drove. We considered stopping at the Happy Gnome, but the lot was completely full, which meant we wouldn’t be getting a seat there either.

We finally stopped at:

W.A. Frost and Company

It’s located in the old Dacota Building in the Cathedral Hill area of St. Paul. I’d been here a couple of times, but it had been a while and was a first for Rob. Since I knew that the dining room area was a bit more classy than where we planned on dining, we wandered into the bar area to check out the scene. The conversation was animated, the bar stools were all taken, and only a few tables remained. As we sat down, Rob said that the interior with its worn wooden floors reminded him of what he’d picture a turn-of-the-century saloon to look like. He said that he kind of expected F. Scott Fitzgerald to be sitting at the bar. When I started writing this post, I went to the W.A. Frost website for the first time and laughed when I read:

“Enjoy the charm of a turn-of-the-century building with large arched doorways and windows, copper cornices, and walls of sandstone and brick.”

Right on, Rob! {Maybe you should be writing these posts…}

THE BEER:

Since there wasn’t a list of beers on tap, our server rattled them off. Because there were some unique options, I wished for a list in front of me, just to compare. I feel bad having them repeated a few times, but we ended up ordering some of the first ones he mentioned anyway:

Rob opted for the McNeill’s Warload Imperial IPA.This was one of the smoothest Imperial IPAs I’ve tried! It was a little nuttier and less hoppy than other ones I’ve had, but I absolutely loved it. In fact, Rob caught me taking a sneak sip or two.

I ordered the Flat Earth Winter Warlock, assuming it would be a Winter Ale as the name suggests since we find them a lot this time of year. Flat Earth is a local brewery out of St. Paul and, whenever possible, we love to support our locals. The lighter-colored beer arrived in an oversized wine glass. (Yes, this is the technical term for this glass when beer is served in it!)

Oversized Wine Glass for Beer

Immediately, Rob and I thought the server mixed up our order. Usually, high-alcohol beers such as Double or Imperial IPAs are served in these smaller-serving glasses. Rob received his more nutty-colored beer in a regular-sized pint glass. Surely, he received the Winter Ale and I received the Imperial IPA, so we switched.

However, the beer in the oversized wine glass tasted more like a Belgian. Now, while I am more open to Belgian Beers, Rob is not much of a fan. So when the server returned, Rob asked which beer was which so that we could be sure we received the correct ones. But they were correct: The Imperial IPA  was in the pint glass and the Winter Warlock was in the oversized wine glass.

Interesting. We switched back. I didn’t mind having the “Winter Ale” that tasted more like a Belgian, especially if Rob wanted the Imperial IPA he ordered.

When we got home, we looked up these beers online to learn more about them. The Flat Earth Winter Warlock, what I thought was a Winter Ale, was actually an English-style barleywine! Beers dubbed barleywine are labeled such because they can be as strong as wine (averaging about 10% or so), but made with grain instead of fruit. No wonder it was served in an oversized wine glass! But because this beer was lighter in color and had a flavor that reminded us of a Belgian, I don’t think we would have ever guessed it was a barleywine. Here is a where a beer list would have been helpful.

(While we didn’t try any, W.A. Frost also boasts an extensive wine list).

THE FOOD:

With menu items such as sweetbreads, duck eggs, and truffle goat cheese risotto, W.A. Frost is fit for a foodie! And while I’m still a little shy to try some things, the menu was extensive enough that anyone could find something to enjoy.

One of the things I really liked was that the Bar Menu had something called “Micro Entrées”. As one would expect, these are mini-versions of some of the entrées on the regular dinner menu! The Grilled Black Angus Petite Filet I ordered was only $17, nicely charred, cooked perfectly and the perfect portion size! On the side of the 3- to 4-oz cut of exceptional beef were a ciopollini onion and braised greens. Oh my, those greens were seasoned well! Something that would be normally be left on the plate, was probably gone first.

If we were giving out “Perfectly Seasoned Season It Already! Awards”, the braised greens at W.A. Frost would be taking one home!

Angus Petite Filet over Braised Greens with a Ciopollini Onion

While the Chef’s Burger caught Rob’s eye first, he wasn’t in the mood for so much food. So he ordered the Black Angus Petite Filet as well. He was more than pleased with his choice So here was our “micro”-meal:

What a portion size should be. These plates were only about 5 inches square.

Because Rob is a fan of risotto, he decided to order a side of the mushroom-barley risotto to try, which our server said was the best side on the menu. I felt like the barley gave it a nutty quality that complemented the earthiness of the mushrooms. Rob thought the dish was a little sandy, which I didn’t notice at all until he said it!

Barleywine & Barley-Mushroom Risotto

The Ambiance:

As we were eating, we gazed out the big windows and suddenly big fluffy snowflakes fell from the sky. The setting and the bar’s ambiance made me feel like I was in a movie. And after Rob’s F. Scott Fitzgerald comment, I felt like W.A. Frost was the literary haunt to St. Paul as Café de Flore is to Paris.

Furthermore, the cozy downstairs lounge has even more character. I only happened upon it on my way to the restroom. An old espresso machine decorated the entryway and the various arrangements of chairs and couches looked comfortable and inviting. What’s more is that a sign indicated that the lounge is full-service!

If you are looking for a place with overall elegance, great ambiance, excellent food, yet casual offerings, we’d recommend W.A. Frost. Such a place will season your entire experience.

Cheers~
Carrie

Tips for Healthy Dining Out

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The weekend is here and many of you are going to be dining out!

Some of you may even be like me – in the process of losing weight. So the thought of going out to eat and screwing up all the hard work you put in during the week can cause more than a little anxiety.

But we have to live, right? If we go through life trying to avoid every circumstance and food while we are losing weight, how do we face it once the weight is gone? Instead, let’s try to make smart choices now. Life is about the journey, not the destination.

Soooo… We’ve all heard that we should order our salad dressing on the side, put down our forks between bites, blah blah blah….

So the point of this post is not to reiterate those tips… (You can find a bunch of them anywhere online, particularly in this great article on the Eat Better America site.) Instead, I’ll share with you my experiences with them and what I’ve discovered works for me. If you are working on your own healthiness, you need to experiment and decide what works for you.

Here is What I’ve Experienced:

Online Menus: Checking the menu online is always the first thing I do! It’s not only to search for healthy options, but also just fun to do. Just ask Rob. I read menus to him. And he sits there. Quietly. As if he can’t read them himself… But really, how did we manage before this? Did we actually wait to look at menus upon arrival and not talk with one another for several minutes before ordering? Or did we find the first thing on the menu that sounded okay and ordered that just to avoid the silence?

Budgeting: I’ve heard all the tips about eating before going out so that you aren’t tempted to order something heavy or overeat while at a restaurant or event. For me, this doesn’t work. Instead, I need to plan for my nights out. No matter what, I always eat more calories out than I expect. So now, I plan for it. While I don’t starve or deprive myself during the day, I do really watch what I eat to compensate. It’s these days that I’ll have a Fiber One Brownie for breakfast with coffee and a nice big spinach salad for lunch and some fruit or nuts for a snack.

Temptations: I don’t quite know why, but this isn’t a problem for me anymore. Instead, I have a bigger problem if I can’t find something healthy on the menu! My guess is that because we go out to eat often, I don’t feel like I’m deprived. Also, after you’ve been at this awhile, you start to crave the foods you are eating. I’m craving tomatoes now… and scallops, not nachos or fries. Besides, if Rob decides to order fries, I can have a couple and be satisfied. For some reason, if they were on my plate, I’d feel like I’d need to eat most of them. However, if they are not my plate, they are not mine to take. Interesting.

Salad Dressing: Of course, we all know dressing is best on the side. Most places just serve it that way now. But ask anyway. Or try this trick: ask for a couple lemon or lime slices. Most restaurants with a bar will have them already. You can squeeze a bit on your salad to give it a bit of wetness with virtually no calories.

Fish or Seafood: This is a big deal for me. I look to see if there are some good chicken or seafood dishes on the menu, since I don’t make a lot of those at home.

Bread: If this is a tough thing for you, just ask that they don’t bring it. Or, practice. Just have one piece. If you can’t do it the first time, you aren’t ready.

Portions: We all know that restaurant portions are atrocious. There are several tips/tricks/ways of looking at this.

  • Ask that half your meal be wrapped up before they bring it. I’ve never done this. For me, the visual experience is almost as important as the taste. Yet, I want to try it sometime.
  • Order an appetizer as your meal instead of before it, like I did here.
  • Share a meal. My friend Jen and I do this often when just the two of us go out. Who cares about a split plate charge? Actually, I’d rather pay more for my meal for them to force me to eat less. Besides, I believe the restaurant shouldn’t have to suffer with a smaller bill.
  • Quality over Quantity. I’d rather pay the same price and get a small portion over getting a big mound of something that will make me feel guilty.
  • Get over wasting food. Yes, there are starving people around the world. You eating everything on your over-sized restaurant plate will NOT change that. Donate to a hunger cause instead.

Still, some nights you can’t control where you end up dining. So when all else fails – Improvise. Take a look at the menu and ask questions to *really* get what you want – even if it’s not on the menu. Jen, a priorfatgirl, did that at TGIFridays. Similarly, remember that when you are invited out, it’s not always about the food, but to enjoy the company and celebrate.

Always remember, practice makes permanent. So each time you are out to eat, think of it as “live practice” for the next time. Always reflect back and decide what you can change going forward. No one is perfect, but there is always room for improvement.

Cheers~

Carrie