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Dessert is a right. Lessons for vacation eating and weight management.

Posted Jul 16 2010 11:23am

It won’t be easy. You’ll go out to eat and people will be watching, observing your every step. They’ll take note and judge what you order, how much you eat. And they’ll especially note whether you have the willpower to pass on dessert.
I know that’s just how you can feel. But really I’m thinking about Michelle. Michelle Obama. I mean the first lady who speaks out publicly and frequently with a passion to conquer childhood obesity, equating a high BMI with such evils as violence and inequalities in education. And, who most recently stated that “dessert is not a right”.
Michelle and her kids (and of course her husband) will be vacationing at one of my all time favorite places—Acadia National Park in Maine. So I’ve pulled together a few recommendations to guide her as our role model for truly healthy eating on vacation.

1) Eat the popovers. You can’t vacation and avoid the foods that are truly pleasurable, and at Acadia that means Jordan Pond House popovers. They arouse the senses as they arrive steaming hot right from the oven, tender and flaky to the touch. And the taste is to die for. Skip the butter they serve, but enjoy the fruit-filled, flavorful jam. And time the visit to fit with a meal, perhaps lunch, but include a salad or soup to add some balance and satisfy. Don’t worry about the portions—in spite of the cost, portions are quite modest.  Combine the visit with a stroll, hike or bike ride around the pond. Or simply linger on the grounds, which are absolute eye candy.
2) Keep snacks handy. Be sure to stop at the local markets (there’s a great organic one downtown Bar Harbor) and carry them when you are out, for you and the kids. Then when you get hungry, you’ll be less likely to be vulnerable to the allure of the ice cream and fudge shops that abound. And it will make portion control when eating out much easier.

 3) Sample the ice cream. I don’t mean that literally, of course. You can order more than those tiny tastes on wooden or plastic gelato spoons! But request the kiddy size. Yes, even if they don’t list it on the menu, you can ask for it. Even this portion is typically ½ cup or more, as size inflation has taken over to justify the high costs they charge for such items.

4) Stay in and cook a couple of nights. If you have a kitchen (never mind the staff that may come with it) take advantage of the produce in season. Accompany the multitude of vegetables with some grilled fish (check out Pectic Seafood), lean meat or even a veggie burger (perhaps with some delicious chutney or a spread of guacamole).

5) Be vocal and order what you wish for. When eating out, assert yourself and inquire how foods are prepared. Then specify any modifications you would like to see. I had a patient, a vegetarian, who had gone so far as to order “the ham and cheese on whole wheat, light on the mayo—and could you hold the ham and the cheese?” That’s not exactly what I had in mind! But you could ask for the food light on the oil, or with the sauce on the side. And definitely ask for an extra plate! It’s a lot easier to manage your portions if you immediately separate the amount that looks appropriate from the rest.

6) Don’t forget the kids! “Kid friendly” is unfortunately equated with unhealthy when dining in restaurants. The choices frequently include very high fat, calorie rich items such as fish and chips, burger and fries, and macaroni and cheese, to name a few. Veggies are few and far between. And the portions would typically satisfy a couple of large adults. You might also be encouraged to order a beverage (such as soda), which may even come with free refills.
So what’s a parent to do, particularly a parent campaigning against childhood obesity? For starters, order (for your children) from the adult menu, where foods are tasty and can easily be prepared healthier. And consider sharing meals; parent and child or two kids will generally find the portions adequate enough to split. Consider going out for pizza (Rosalie’s in Bar Harbor is a must.)  Have them cut the pizza into 16 pieces versus 8 (I know it’s the same but somehow it really does make a difference having more pieces on the plate). It will be easier to feel satisfied without overeating. And order a salad to accompany the meal, dressing on the side.

7) And remember that dessert is a right! That is, if you are hungry. So perhaps if you and your family have had an early meal and you find your self a bit hungry later, (having managed your eating so well at dinner), you’ll bring something back to the cottage where you can control the portions and even save some for another day. Because restricting dessert or pleasurable foods to only special events is likely to increase the demand for these items. And if you feel that having dessert is such a treat, you’ll be more likely to overeat on it, with a “now or never” mentality. So Michelle, and readers, remember that dessert is a right.

Good luck, Michelle, while eating in Acadia, and try to have some balance when you are role modeling for women and families concerned about healthy eating. And hopefully readers will find these tips valuable, on vacation or even trying to manage take out or dining out throughout the year.

(PS: The pizza shown on the previous post is at Rosalie's.)
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