Little changes let big eaters share table with fat-fighters Delicious Compromises

June 21, 1995|By Nancy E. Schaadt | Nancy E. Schaadt,Universal Press Syndicate

A food fight that played out recently in the comics had its roots in real life.

"For Better or For Worse" mom Elly used a "take no prisoners" approach to making her family eat vegetarian. Her reward? Full-scale revolt. Like Elly, the strip's creator learned the hard way that the family cook can't dictate what people want.

"We tried cutting down on [bad foods]," Lynn Johnston says from her Ontario, Canada, home, "but my daughter loves pepperoni pizza. And there are times when my husband just has to have a hamburger or he's not a nice man."

Rather than start World War III, the cook's challenge is to meet conflicting demands without becoming a galley slave -- whether it's a carbo-loading power walker sharing the table with a gourmet cook, or a dieter crossing forks with a meat-and-potatoes mate.

Throw in a weight-conscious teen and a picky grade-schooler, and it's no wonder the cook sometimes feels defeated before setting foot in the kitchen.

"The biggest error [the cook] makes is adopting a yes/no attitude," says Kathleen Duran, a registered dietitian. Finding a middle ground is essential, she says.

Not to worry. There are easy ways to customize dishes for different tastes, whether it's finishing a dish with different sauces or providing creative add-ons and condiments at the table.


One of the simplest ways to keep everyone happy is to adjust portions.

For someone watching fat, a meal of grilled swordfish, broccoli and baked potatoes might include a low-fat salsa with the fish, broccoli with balsamic vinegar, and a potato with low-fat sour cream or yogurt and chives, plus a roll with a squirt of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter cooking spray.

The rest of the family might have larger fish portions with a dab of flavored butter, a squeeze of processed cheese on the broccoli, loaded potatoes -- real sour cream, bacon bits, chives and cheese -- and a couple of those rolls with butter. Kids who are picky eaters will respond to loading their own spuds.

"Do it yourself" meals such as fajitas or tacos naturally lend themselves to portion control. Hungry Bill can eat several more than the next family member and load them up with different ingredients. A child may eat only one or two.


"Parallel cooking" is another alternative. The term means preparing two versions of an entree, side dish or sauce. For instance, use a divided casserole or separate baking dishes, and add a richer sauce to one portion of meat or pasta, a lighter, zesty tomato sauce to the fat-watcher's portion.

The same technique can be used to control spiciness or cheesiness for children. Set aside some spaghetti sauce for kids before you add the Italian sausage and peppers for adults.

In "Kidfood" (Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1989), Lisa Tracy calls this "dovetailing meals." If the little one prefers pasta with a little Parmesan and butter, she says, scoop some plain pasta out before adding the marinara. If kids like their vegetables raw, don't cook all the carrots and snap peas.

Or you might prepare a couple of versions of pasta salad, one with less dressing or low-fat dressing plus artichoke hearts and a bit of grated Romano cheese, the other with regular dressing, some pepperoni slices and grated mozzarella. For fussy kids, it might mean holding the onion -- or whatever it is they balk at -- from either version.

Creative add-ons

Of course, custom finishing can always come at the table.

"Do it yourself" entrees like tacos and fajitas make this easy. The big eater can fill tacos or fajitas more lavishly with meat, cheese and guacamole. Those counting fat grams or calories will load up on the lettuce, tomatoes, salsa and scallions with just enough meat, cheese and guacamole for flavor. Kids can avoid the salsa altogether.

Ms. Duran likes to add side dishes that fill people up without a lot of fat. She will combine a frozen vegetable such as broccoli with cheese sauce with a package of unseasoned broccoli. This reduces the fat by half without compromising flavor.

She also recommends bulking up a menu with vegetables, whole-grain breads and extra helpings of starchy foods such as rice and pasta.

"The dieter will benefit nutritionally from additional roughage," she says. And athletes will appreciate the additional carbo calories.

Ms. Duran also prepares "eye-fooling" meals such as shish kebab or stir-fries that call for less meat, more veggies.

She finds that many packaged foods can be prepared with less butter, oil or margarine at no flavor cost. "The package instructions call for 1/4 cup butter or margarine. I use 1 tablespoon," she says. "It tastes just fine."

For Amazon appetites, single-serving frozen side dishes offer creative ways to flesh out a meal in a hurry. Also, serve sauces on the side so the fat-watcher can control the amount he or she eats.

More sidelights

An array of condiments is often the most effective way to address disparate food needs, Ms. Duran says.

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