As portion sizes and pants sizes continue to increase in the U.S., many health experts are saying that eating less is the best way to manage weight and stay healthy. But in a session at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo, Barbara Rolls of the nutrition department at Pennsylvania State University and Ellie Krieger, a registered dietitian and host of Food Network’s “Healthy Appetite,” made a case for filling our plates as a path to better nutrition.
This isn’t a justification of the plate-sized hamburgers and inflated portions of pasta that are increasingly prevalent on American menus, but rather a call to pile more vegetables on our plates. Studies show that people have a strong tendency to eat the amount of food placed in front of them, so if the assumption is that diners are going to clean their plate, having that plate contain more nutrient-and-fiber-rich vegetables and fewer calorie-and-fat-laden meats and starches is a smart choice. Lowering the energy density of meals while keeping the size consistent with what we’re used to is also a good way to ensure satiety, which Krieger referred to as the “missing ingredient in dieting.” Here are some of her other tips on how to use a full plate as an effective tool for health and weight management:
Pump up flavor with purees. There are plenty of recipes out there that call for apple sauce to replace some of the fat in baked goods such as brownies and sweet breads, but try branching out with other pureed fruits. Pureed pumpkin and squash are available in cans, especially around this time of year, and jarred baby foods are a good source for other vegetable purees such as carrots and prunes.
Match textures for a pleasant mouth feel. If the idea of having your favorites dish studded with vegetables doesn’t thrill you, try chopping or shredding the vegetables so they more closely match the texture of the original dish. Chop cauliflower into small bits to integrate into macaroni and cheese, or shred zucchini into ribbons to stir in with stands of pasta.
Don’t forgo fats entirely. Krieger may be serious about nutrition, but she doesn’t believe that we should have to give up the tastes we love in the name of health. “Why is there this idea that nutritionists don’t love food?” she asked. She advocated the use of full-fat dairy, especially cheese, because the flavor and melt-ability add so much to the dish and keep it from seeming like “diet” food. A little butter or oil can go a long way in making a dish seem luxurious — just make sure to measure. “I think I’m the only cook on TV who measures oil,” she said. “People just kind of glug it in … You don’t need it.” Instead, Krieger suggests drizzling some good-quality olive oil on top of a dish to enhance the look and taste, or leaving butter out of a dish but placing a small amount on top to give the illusion that the dish is buttery. Rolls agreed that omitting fats isn’t the answer, “because then the food’s not going to taste good. And obviously people need to like what they’re eating,” she said.