Melissa Tewes and Joe Fleischman
Your Health Matters
2:51 PM EDT, June 10, 2011
By Melissa Tewes
Whether you are eating out or dining in, the side dishes you choose to accompany your main entree can make or break your otherwise healthful meal.
If you are dining out, try choosing restaurants that offer a variety of choices. Don't be afraid to speak up and ask how items are prepared, or to ask for special requests. When preparing your meals at home, choose healthier preparation methods.
Soups and salads are popular side dishes that, when appropriately chosen or prepared, can curb your appetite and decrease overall fat and calorie content of the entire meal.
Poor choices can also ruin the attempt at a healthful meal. Many people feel that the meal is healthy if you incorporate a salad, but depending on your toppings, a salad can add a lot of fat and calories to your meal.
If making a salad, skip the cheeses, eggs, bacon bits, creamy dressings, croutons and creamy salads such as potato salad, pasta salad and coleslaw. Instead of piling on these high-calorie, high-fat items, opt for extra vegetables to increase nutrient potential. Choose oil and vinegar or vinaigrette dressings rather than fat-and-calorie dense creamy dressings and always serve salad dressings, on the side. Here's a great tip: When serving dressing on the side, try dipping your fork into the dressing before taking a bite of your salad — a small amount of a bold, flavored dressing goes a long way.
When selecting soup as a side, go for broth-based soups that are loaded with vegetables. Steer away from high-fat, high-calorie, cream-based soups.
Vegetables should always be a side dish to every meal. Ideally half of your dinner plate should be filled with non-starchy vegetables. Choose brightly colored vegetables and avoid overcooking to retain the great nutrients that they provide. Try steaming, stewing, broiling or grilling vegetables.
Try choosing fruit or fruit salad as a high-fiber, vitamin-packed side dish. Avoid fruit salads that are premade and packed in heavy syrup. By adding fruit as a side dish, you may eliminate the desire for dessert following your meal.
Avoid ordering or preparing vegetables with added fat, cheese and cream sauces. Instead of adding butter or margarine, try adding a dab of olive oil or try experimenting with flavored vinegars.
Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and peas can be a healthy addition to your meal. Avoid adding butter, sour cream, cheese, and bacon bits to potatoes. Instead, try adding salsa, applesauce, low-fat margarine or low-fat sour cream.
If you choose to add a starchy side such as potatoes, peas, corn, rice, or pasta, aim to fill up no more than one fourth of your plate. Choose whole grain starches such as whole wheat pasta or brown rice to maximize nutrient and fiber content. Avoid topping with butter, oil, gravies or cream sauces. Instead, use red sauces.
Try experimenting with non-traditional whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, and barley to increase variety in your diet.
If you are preparing "casserole-like" sides, choose your ingredients wisely. Opt for low fat dairy products and cheeses. Most times, you can cut the fat in any recipe in half without compromising the flavor or texture.
Melissa Tewes is the clinical nutrition manager at Meritus Medical Center. She has 16 years of experience as a registered dietitian and is also a certified personal trainer.
By Joe Fleischman
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