More Bang for Your Chuck

More Bang for Your Chuck

Buck the bigger-burger-is-better trend and eat right on this explosive night

published in Fort Wayne Magazine

On July 4, the entire nation will celebrate the freedom to gorge on warm beer, potentially poisonous pasta salad, artery-choking brats and brownies as big as our heads until the fireworks in the sky are equaled only by the fire in our chests as heartburn and regret bring justice for all.

It doesn’t have to be that way. I know, I know – a crisp Corona, a big burger and a sizeable square of that white frosted flag cake with blueberry stars sound awesome right now. But think about how you felt the last time you went to bed with a fuzzy head and a bursting belly. This Fourth of July, vow instead to declare freedom from antacids and that artfully tied towel designed to disguise your indulgence when you hit the beach July 5.

You could chuck the idea of a traditional cookout altogether. Me, I happen to love a nicely grilled salmon and some stir-fried tofu, squash, flaxseed, okra and eggplant, followed by a pie made with fat-free graham crackers, sugar-free Jell-O pudding, fat-free cream cheese and sugar-free whipped topping.

My neighbor Joe Goodgriller, however, has implied that I am a “freak.” He also refuses to float the notion that tofu can be good and good for you. So I enlisted the help of registered dietician Marcia Crawford to develop some strategies that my neighbor and others like him could swallow … and keep down.

Turns out Marcia likely would chuck my favorite part of dinner – the dessert made with every substitute man can develop in a lab.

“While some food choices are admittedly better than others, I think if we’d take away the guilt and add back the flavor and the visual interest of foods, we may not be so inclined to eat so much,” she says. “Think of the person who eats a whole bag of fat-free potato chips. They aren’t satisfied. The chips don’t taste as good as the originals. Wouldn’t it be a better idea to have a few of the originals instead of the entire bag of the fat-free version?”

Yes, and the key is “a few.” Controlling calories still is necessary – even more so when eating the real deal. I asked Marcia for tips to help those of us who simply like to eat – full-fat or not.

“Accomplish this by using smaller glasses for drinks and smaller plates for dinner,” she suggests. “Trade in the half-pound burgers for some minis. Sure, you could add some ground white-meat turkey to your ground beef to reduce the fat content, but it truly is the amount of food that is driving us to obesity – in the fast lane.”

Who hasn’t attended a cookout armed with this knowledge and steely resolve, only to put it in park next to the buffet table and munch mindlessly on the bag of Cool-Ranch Doritos you never buy yourself at home? If the table is groaning under the weight of snacks and treats, you likely will be, too. Volunteer to host or help with the event, so you can exert some control over the game plan.

“From a food safety and nutrition standpoint, consider not putting the food out from beginning to end, ” says Marcia. “Perhaps the party could get kicked off with some vigorous volleyball or some crazy croquet. Both are activities in which you can’t easily eat and participate at the same time, compared with an activity such as cards. With some creativity, food doesn’t have to be the main focus of the party. Put the food out at one time, then put it all away at once.”

In fact, food safety could be a great motivator for your diet. Instead of gobbling the leftovers so you don’t have to dirty a bowl, better to toss the potato salad now than toss your cookies later with a vicious case of food poisoning. “Consider the two-hour rule: No perishable food should sit out at room temperature for more than two hours,” Marcia says. “If the environment is warmer than, say, 74 degrees, that window of time is lessened.” In those two hours, she notes, you also must include the time you spent transporting the food from the dairy case to your home as well as the time your food is out during preparation.

Isn’t it typically the cheesy, creamy stuff that spoils first anyway, or the meat that becomes contaminated? Choose instead a different type of menu to make the most of your munching.

“The steaks, burgers or hot dogs don’t need to be the center of attention,” Marcia points out. “Think, instead, of all the vegetables and fruits that can be grilled. Corn-on-the-cob with a great seasoning salt or zucchini, onions and tomatoes grilled and topped with vinaigrette would be colorful, healthy choices.

“Peaches and pineapple are the most commonly grilled fruits; can you imagine how interesting desserts will get with some bubbling sweet fruits hot off the grill?”

Don’t forget a good old salad, made better with spinach leaves instead of iceberg; the satisfying crunch of air-popped popcorn; and, if you must, pasta salad – prepared from whole-wheat, protein-fortified pasta with heart-healthy olive oil, onions, tomatoes, red peppers and other veggies.

On this day to celebrate our nation’s independence, let’s avoid revealing our dependence on food to have a good time. Let’s prove that this is the land of plenty, not the land of too much. Let’s show that the American way is not eating to expand the elastic in our shorts, but extending opportunity and promise on our shores.

Horseshoes, anyone?