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A&E >  Food

A Trip To Leanville On One Recent Vacation, Instead Of Splurging On Fatty Foods, This Family Tried A Health New Diet

Donna Lee Providence Journal-Bulletin

With all the trimmed-down recipes available these days, it’s not difficult to limit fat if you’re doing the cooking. But no matter how diligent a person is during an ordinary week, a vacation can kill a diet.

During a recent visit down South, where my parents go to escape the snow, I vowed that wouldn’t happen.

I told my mother that I’d do the cooking all week, and that it would be low-fat. She liked the idea, at least until she saw the menus.

I scheduled an abundance of vegetables and fruit (the recommended five to seven servings a day), with moderate amounts of chicken and seafood. It was vegetables, vegetables, vegetables, beans and pasta.

There was no red meat, even though lean beef could fit into the plan. “We’re used to beef,” my mother said dubiously. “Your father hates tuna and he doesn’t like chicken breasts.”

I told her it would be good for us. Besides, I wanted to last the week without having to let out my belt to the last notch.

Armed with recipes from the “Duke University Diet and Fitness Center Cookbook” and the new “Better Homes & Gardens Eat and Stay Slim Cookbook,” we loaded up on produce at the farmers’ market.

While I was trimming vegetables, Mom said, “I have cookies. Do you want some?”

Of course I did. But I resisted.

After a meal that featured low-fat creamed spinach and oven-crisped chicken breasts, she started copying recipes. It was a lot of food for few calories, and it tasted good. Even my father liked the chicken breasts.

The next day, he praised the minestrone. But when he heard that tuna casserole was the following day’s lunch, he said he’d eat leftover soup instead. He was right; the tuna was a loser. My husband and mother gave it a lukewarm “OK,” but Mom didn’t copy the recipe.

Throughout the trip, we ate only fresh fruit for dessert and my husband and I walked at least a mile a day. (I stopped once at a bakery for a pastry, but if you eat sensibly most of the time, you can manage a few indulgences.)

We did go out to a seafood restaurant several times, where I ordered big, plump, deep-fried Gulf oysters. My parents had fried shrimp and French fries, while my true-to-the-cause husband ate broiled fish.

At the end of the week, my mother stepped on the scales and announced: “I gained a pound on your low-fat cooking!”

I offered the excuse that it must have been the restaurant’s fried shrimp and French fries, the neighbor’s birthday cake and the fact that Mom didn’t join in our walks.

My husband and I each lost a pound, and never felt hungry. The downside was the time it took to prepare all those fresh vegetables and scrub all the pans.

Back home, I trim the time by making double batches on the weekend, to have a second meal to reheat in the microwave on a workday. On worknights, I sometimes use frozen vegetables instead of snipping bean tips.

In addition to keeping meals low in fat, we followed the Food Pyramid recommendations for a healthful diet: six to 11 servings of breads and starches (such as pasta and potatoes) each day; three to five vegetable servings; two to four servings of fruit; two to three servings of meat, fish, poultry or meat substitutes (such as beans); two to three dairy servings and sparing amounts of oils and sweets.

You need a little fat; I aimed for no more than two teaspoons, and made that olive oil. Nonstick vegetable spray is a big help. And it’s easy to microwave vegetables without fat.

Here are a few other tips for avoiding fat:

Canned, evaporated skim milk is fat-free but adds a creamy quality to sauces.

If using a packaged item such as rice pilaf mix, omit any oil or butter called for in the directions.

“Saute” vegetables in a little chicken broth.

A microwave-baked potato can be topped with nonfat cottage cheese or nonfat yogurt or sour cream and snips of green onion tops or chives. Cooked broccoli and/or shredded carrots are good toppers, too. Or just use lemon juice and pepper or herbs.

Microwave a sweet potato to eat plain, or sprinkled with nutmeg or pepper; it’s loaded with beta carotene. Just put it on a plate and microwave on high until tender, about 5 minutes.

Butternut squash - another good source of beta carotene - is good cooked the same way. Peel it and slice it about 1/2 inch thick, then microwave it in a covered casserole until tender, about 4 minutes on high power. You don’t have to add water or butter.

Keep portions modest. One serving of meat, chicken or fish is no bigger than a deck of cards. Half a baked potato is a proper serving when you’re watching calories.

If a restaurant doesn’t have low-fat salad dressing, order dressing on the side and dip the fork into it before each bite of the salad.

For sandwiches, sliced turkey or chicken breast (the real thing) at the deli counter is lower in fat than cold cuts. Have it with mustard or fat-free mayonnaise.

Here are some of the low-fat dishes we enjoyed.

Creamed Spinach

Although the cream cheese adds a note of richness, I usually skip it. For color and vitamins, I serve this in a ring of microwave-steamed butternut squash slices (see directions above).

2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen chopped spinach, thawed

2 tablespoons flour or 1 tablespoon cornstarch

1-1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons skim milk

3/4 teaspoon instant chicken bouillon granules, low sodium

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions

Dash of nutmeg

2 tablespoons reduced-calorie cream cheese, optional

1/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Squeeze spinach to remove excess water. (You can thaw the spinach in the microwave.)

Put flour or cornstarch into a heavy saucepan and gradually whisk in the skim milk. Add the bouillon and pepper. Stir over medium-high heat until thickened.

Stir in green onions, nutmeg, cream cheese and salt to taste. Add drained spinach; mix well. Reduce heat to low and cook until heated through, stirring.

Yield: 6 servings.

Nutrition information per 1/2-cup serving: without cream cheese, 38 calories, .5 grams fat (12 percent fat calories), 102 milligrams sodium; with cream cheese, 42 calories, 0.6 grams fat (13 percent fat calories), 122 milligrams sodium.


Adapted from “Duke University Diet and Fitness Cookbook.” If desired, use other types of canned beans, such as white beans or chickpeas.

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 cups diced onion

1 tablespoon minced garlic

5 cups low-sodium chicken broth

4 cups water

1/4 cup red wine, optional

3/4 cup carrots, sliced or julienne cut

2 cups shredded green cabbage

1 (16-ounce) can no-salt-added tomatoes, chopped with juice

2 teaspoons instant low-sodium beef or chicken bouillon granules

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon dried basil

1-1/2 cups peeled, diced white potatoes

1 cup kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup ditalini or other small pasta, uncooked

1 cup fresh spinach, chopped (or 10-ounce box frozen spinach)

2 cups zucchini, unpeeled, sliced in half-coins

8 teaspoons Parmesan cheese, grated

In large stock pot, saute onions in olive oil until golden. Add garlic; cook 1 to 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, water, wine, carrots, cabbage, tomatoes, bouillon, black and red pepper and basil. Simmer gently 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add potatoes, beans and pasta. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes or until pasta is cooked and vegetables are tender. (I prefer to cook the pasta in boiling water in a separate pan, then drain and add it, so the soup isn’t starchy.) Add spinach and zucchini; cook 10 minutes or until done.

Sprinkle with cheese and serve.

Yield: 8 servings.

Nutrition information per 1/2-cup serving: 185 calories, 4 grams fat (19 percent fat calories), 525 milligrams sodium.

Crispy Chicken

Adapted from “Duke University Diet and Fitness Cookbook.” I sometimes add a tablespoon of Parmesan cheese to the crumbs, or omit the dry mustard and add teaspoon thyme or poultry seasoning. Because there is no fat, this can be dry if you cook it too long.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 5 ounces each (see note)

2 cups cornflakes

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or 1 small clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon grated fresh lemon rind

1 large egg white

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Vegetable cooking spray

Trim chicken of any fat.

Crush cornflakes in food processor or blender, or place them in a plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin or wine bottle. They should be as fine as bread crumbs and measure about 2/3 cup. Mix with dry mustard, pepper, paprika, garlic and lemon rind.

Whisk together the egg white and lemon juice with a fork or wire whisk. Dip each chicken breast into the egg white mixture, then coat with the crumbs. Place on a shallow baking pan that has been sprayed with vegetable spray.

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, until chicken is no longer pink when you cut into the center.

Yield: 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 265 calories, 8 grams fat (27 percent fat calories), 230 milligrams sodium.

Note: If you use skinless chicken breasts with the bone, allow 40 to 50 minutes to cook.

Chicken With Mushroom Sauce

From “Better Homes & Gardens Eat and Stay Slim Cookbook.”

4 chicken breast halves, about 12 ounces total

Vegetable spray

1 teaspoon olive oil

2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms

1 medium size red or green pepper, cut in 3/4-inch cubes

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup fat-free sour cream

1 tablespoon flour

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon dry sherry

2 cups cooked rice

Rinse chicken. Spray skillet with vegetable spray and saute chicken for about 4 minutes. Remove from pan.

Add oil to pan and cook mushrooms, peppers and garlic until peppers are tender. Remove from pan.

Add broth to skillet. Return chicken to pan. Add pepper and salt to taste. Bring to boil. Cover, lower heat and simmer 5 to 7 minutes or until chicken is done. Transfer to a warm platter.

Mix sour cream with flour, pepper and sherry. Add to skillet. Heat and stir; add mushroom mixture and reheat. Serve chicken with rice and the mushroom sauce.

Yield: 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 259 calories, 4 grams fat (14 percent fat calories), 176 milligrams sodium.

Vegetable-Macaroni Casserole

From “Better Homes & Gardens Eat and Stay Slim Cookbook.”

3/4 cup dry elbow macaroni

10 ounces frozen mixed vegetables

1 medium zucchini, sliced

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated skim milk

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/4 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon garlic salt or minced garlic

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 medium tomato, sliced

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan

Cook macaroni in boiling water as directed on package; add frozen vegetables and zucchini during the last 3 minutes of cooking. Drain well.

Combine pasta and vegetables and place in a 2-quart casserole sprayed with vegetable spray.

Whisk together skim milk, chicken broth, flour, oregano, garlic and pepper (and salt if desired). Cook, stirring, until bubbling and thickened. Mix with the pasta and cooked vegetables in the casserole. Bake 10 minutes at 375 degrees.

Top with sliced tomato; sprinkle with cheese. Bake 5 minutes more, or until everything is hot.

Yield: 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 261 calories, 2 grams fat (7 percent fat calories), 404 milligrams sodium.

Apple Bake

From “Duke University Diet and Fitness Cookbook.”

4 large apples, cored

1 (8-ounce) can unsweetened crushed pineapple

1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom, optional

1-1/2 teaspoons white sugar

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons walnuts, finely chopped (optional)

Slice apples in 1/4-inch pieces (leave the peel on) and place in a 9-inch square baking dish that has been sprayed with vegetable spray. Drain pineapple, saving juice. Spread pineapple over apples.

Mix cinnamon, cardamom and sugars; sprinkle over fruit. Pour pineapple juice over all. Sprinkle with nuts. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees or until tender. Serve hot or cold.

Yield: 8 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 85 calories (73 calories without nuts), 1 gram fat (11 percent fat calories), negligible sodium.

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