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Weigh portions before digging in to favorites

November 19, 2003|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Did you grow up in a home with the Clean Plate Club? Are you still carrying a membership card? Finishing everything on your plate can be a serious problem when eating out these days - a serious problem for your waistline and for your health.

There has been a dramatic increase in serving sizes over the past 20 years. Fast-food chains are not the only place that portions have been super-sized. Fast-food meals, quick-serve eateries, elegant restaurants, supermarkets and even cookbooks - they all serve larger portions and contribute to the expanding waistlines of Americans.

The real problem is not that portions are larger; the problem is that we tend to "lick the platter clean." A recent study showed that even preschool children take bigger bites and eat more calories when served larger portions of their favorite foods. In this study, smaller portions also meant fewer calories.

Experts agree that correctly portioning food is one of the easiest ways to reach and maintain a healthy weight - at any age. Here are 10 simple ways to change how much you eat without giving up any of your favorite foods:


1. Think before you order. Planning ahead is always smart. Think about how hungry you actually are. Think about sharing with a friend. Think about taking half home.

2. Just say no. Fast food "value" meals may sound like a good deal, but they serve up more calories, fat and sugar than you need. So, say "no thanks" to the combo offers.

3. Swap super-size for a smarter size. Order a regular burger, fries and soft drink, and you can enjoy half the calories of the mega-size meal.

4. Share a big item. There is a smart way to make giant portions work for your health (and wallet) - share. Split an order of fries to cut calories and save money.

5. Save calories with a children's meal. Here is another simple way to save money and improve drive-through nutrition.

6. Order an appetizer as an entree: Appetizer portions often are exactly the right size and a lot less expensive than a full meal in fancier restaurants.

7. Savor an entree twice as much. Eat half your dinner in the restaurant, and take half home for breakfast or lunch tomorrow. This cuts calories and gives you another meal.

8. Share a dessert. Any menu item can be shared - entrees, salads, sandwiches - and, best of all, desserts. With a shared sweet, you can eat your cake and eat healthy, too.

9. Switch to power beverages. A simple switch to low-fat milk or water can cut calories quickly. If you choose a soft drink, go with the small - plus a large ice water.

10. Enjoy new healthful options. Many chains are responding to consumer demand with new options, such as combo meals featuring sandwiches, side salads and bottled water.

When you eat less, you can enjoy it more. The potential benefits are definite biggies: no more overstuffed feelings, a healthy weight, better blood sugars and lower blood pressure.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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