Tuesday, November 18, 2014

(Healthier) restaurant hacks

I try cooking (or at least prepping) most of the meals I eat. But at some point, usually during the weekend, I reward myself for all my hard work by going to a nice restaurant and having a nice, delicious dinner (or brunch if I’m being naughty). At that point I could not give a flying fuzz about calories, or fat, or carbs; I don’t care about any of it. I just eat my heart out and enjoy the food. Of course, it stops being fun when I overdo it and go into what it feels like a food-induced coma, but that’s beside the point. My point is that there’s a time and a place for everything; and food is no exception.

But let’s face it. Many of the foods that we drool over (and even have some seriously disturbing dreams about) are neither difficult to make, nor an imminent nutritional disaster. Oh yeah, some of those “once in a while treats” can easily be turned into everyday healthy items with just a few tweaks. And you can do it without sacrificing the flavor.

A few days ago, I went to one of my favorite diners with my best friend and I felt I died and went straight to heaven as I ate their pecan pancakes. I love them so much, but I never make them at home. NEVER. I’m not sure why, because I always have pecans around, and I make pancakes often… I reasoned that the major problem with these pancakes is the fact that they although they are huge (and therefore have an unknown amount of calories), their lack of fiber results in me feeling like I’m STARVING just a couple of hours after. 

I thought that an easy and simple way to make these pancakes healthier (so I can eat them more often) is to use whole wheat flour instead of regular flour. I just followed my pancake recipe, but I used 1 cup and 2 tablespoons of whole wheat flour instead of 1 ½ cups of white flour. Sometimes the mix is a bit too thick so I gradually add more milk until the consistency is just right (It won’t be much – a tablespoon at the most). That’s it. Then while they are cooking I add chopped pecans, I flip them and cook for an additional minute. It’s that simple. Now these pancakes have the fiber that the regular pancakes lack. Also, the natural sweetness of the whole wheat flour plays very well with the pecan flavors. As a bonus, since you are making the pancakes yourselves, you know exactly how much a serving is (and how many servings you are eating, so you don’t over eat.

Breakfast, checked. But what about dinner? The diner that makes those amazing pancakes is just a few blocks away from my other weekend-indulgence: one of the best soul food/southern restaurants in town. I know they have pretty good food, but I ALWAYS end up eating the same dish: chicken and waffles with a side of grits. This is THE place that made me like grits to begin with (in the American sense; I’ve eaten the Puerto Rican equivalents since I was a baby). Turns out, I never make grits at home. Why? Beats me; but once again, the lack of fiber is a real deterrent to having grits often.  My solution? I bought a 10 grain hot cereal (Bob’s Red Mill 10 grain hot cereal - free publicity, ha), that is whole wheat along with other whole grains. I didn’t do anything special; I just followed the package’s instructions, but I substituted milk for water. It turned out to be really good, and it went really well with my Puerto Rican-fried chicken. Yumm!!! I loved it. 

These are just two examples (out of MANY) of easy swaps to transform a not-so-healthy restaurant dish (or side) into a healthier, every day side meal that will taste great, and will be good for you. I’m pretty sure you all have examples. Feel free to share them!

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