If you are trying to watch your weight, restaurant dining is full of minefields: portions are huge, vegetables are few, and oh yes ... want to know why that grilled salmon you ordered is so much more flavorful than the version you make at home? Because it's covered in butter, that's why.
Still, people are eating out more and more, and at the same time we're battling a national obesity crisis. A survey of hundred of chefs reveals a dirty little secret: They are willing to try to cut the calories in meals they serve, but not at the expense of taste; most think they could cut back 10 to 25 percent without sacrificing taste. That's a good savings, especially when you think about how many calories many restaurant meals are packing.
You can do the same thing at home, without resorting to fake-out Splenda-applesauce muffins and chemical-tasting fat-free dressings, as well. Here are some tricks for virtually undetectable calorie savers:
Cut your portions: This is the most important tip of all; if you don't eat something, it has no calories at all. Learn what a proper portion looks like, and if you're still hungry, fill up on fruit or veggies.
Trick your senses: In Mindless Eating, which is a fascinating book about how we perceive food as satisfying or not, Dr. Brian Wansink talks about how our other senses play a much bigger role in how we eat than we think they do. Take a hamburger: You can either eat a big fat half-pound burger, or a much smaller quarter-pound burger and be equally satisfied. The trick is in bulking up the smaller burger with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, even onions if you like them. Your brain thinks that because it's as large as the bigger burger, you're actually eating as much calorie-dense food, but you're not. This trick works with sandwiches and stir fries as well; cut back on the meat, cheese and starch and bulk up the veggies to save calories but still feel full.
Low-fat dairy: Fat free dairy is pretty vile, but reduced fat milk, sour cream, cottage cheese and so on are actually quite good eaten alone and virtually indistinguishable from their fattier counterparts in recipes. Even reduced fat cheese can be good if it's good quality; the 100 percent natural Kraft line and Cabot both make pretty good reduced fat cheeses. If you're worried about how the dairy is going to behave when cooked, use half full-fat and half light. A good rule for recipes is to go "one lower": if it calls for heavy cream, use half and half; if it calls for half and half, use whole milk, and so on.
Cut the fat: Much of the time, if a recipe calls for browning something in butter or oil, you can cut it by at least half, or sub in cooking spray, and still get good results. Fried things and roux-based sauces or stews need the fat: most other recipes don't miss it at all.
Make your own sauce: Most store-bought marinades or bottled sauces are riddled with high fructose corn syrup and weird Frankenfoods. The Internet is chock full of recipes for barbecue sauce, stir-fry sauces or marinades; make your own and you can adjust the fat or sugar levels down to taste; start with half and then add back in until the taste and texture is right.
What are your favorite calorie-saving tricks?
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