FARGO, N.D. - These are right-sized portions, our 17-year-old son commented as he examined the burrito on his plate.
Yes, this is a perfect amount of food for me, and the sauce is delicious, our 14-year-old daughter said in agreement.
I like how colorful it is in this restaurant, too! our 9-year-old daughter announced.
My husband and I looked at each other and grinned. Then we looked at our children as they continued to discuss the merits of the meal and decor. We had newly minted restaurant critics in our midst.
We were on a vacation trip out of state and had discovered a local Mexican-style restaurant. Our kids were correct about the quality of the food. Not only was the food flavorful and piping hot, but the prices were as reasonable as the portion sizes.
In other words, we weren't overstuffed burritos with empty pocketbooks when we left the restaurant.
However, the previous evening, we had eaten in a family-style restaurant with portions that surprised our kids. The server set down a casserole-sized portion in front of my wide-eyed older daughter.
We should have shared a meal! she said as she looked at the chicken pot pie. It was topped with a biscuit the size of her head. She made a gallant effort but ate less than half.
I have enough ribs for a middle-aged adult, our 9-year-old daughter exclaimed. I was thinking she had enough for a teenage boy.
On the other hand, my husband and son ate all of their food and waddled out of the restaurant, slightly miserable for the rest of the evening. With a stack of take-out boxes, we returned to our hotel room, which had a refrigerator and a microwave. We don't like to waste food.
Although the prospect of eating leftovers while on vacation wasn't exciting to our kids, the food still was tasty the next day.
I think our kids learned a little bit about food economics as they saw the prices and amounts of food. I hope they have learned some healthful habits. Diners can use several strategies to trim calories and maximize nutrition.
· Consider sharing an entre or having an appetizer as a meal. Many restaurants also offer smaller portions for a reduced cost.
· Be cautious about the bread, chips and other freebies that might be offered before your entre arrives. Set a limit. You can pack away a lot of calories in the 15-minute waiting time.
· Ask for a take-out box at the start of the meal to help manage large portions: Out of sight, out of mouth!
· Consider your beverage choices. Beverage calories add up quickly and promote weight gain. Liquid calories tend not to be as satisfying as food calories, according to some researchers. Tap water with ice and a slice of lemon is free, so it's easy on the budget, too.
· Have soup as a first course. Researchers have shown that a first course of broth-based soup can significantly decrease the amount of overall calories consumed in the meal.
· Try a side salad or fruit as a side item in place of fried side dishes, such as onion rings. Order any dressings or sauces on the side so you can control how much you use.
· Trim calories on your sandwich by opting for mustard instead of mayonnaise.
· If a salad bar is an option, load your plate with the dark, leafy greens, carrot sticks and other vegetables, instead of salads mixed with dressing or sauces.