Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Our Not Free, Not From Denny's Grand Slam

Well, just a couple days into my "Perfect Month," and Denny's decides to sabotage me by giving away away free food.

I like free stuff. The two facets of this blog reflect my two big personality pushes--get healthy and save money. So offering a frugal, but wanna-be fit guy like me a big ol' plate of free, bad for you food is like telling Yogi Bear he can have a picnic basket as long as he didn't steal from anybody. Which idiosyncratic personality quirk do you let win?

Well, I guess we have to cop to actually getting in the car, putting on our seat belts, and then driving to Denny's with the intent of eating the food.

In our defense, I've always felt, and stated in this blog, that you can eat at crazy places and eat crazy food as long as you figure it into your calories. So we figured out the calories for the Grand Slam, figured that into our calories for the day, packed up our kids and headed out.

And you saw the news. So you know what we saw. So we got back in our car, turned around, and headed . . . to the grocery store.

See, I have this amazing wife. And while I'll be waxing poetic about her culinary skills later this month, she decided our best bet would be to create our own lower calorie version of the same meal. So using ingredients we had at home, and ingredients purchased at the grocery store for less than we probably would have given the frazzled, overworked Denny's waitress for a tip, she was able to create a better-than-Denny's Grand Slam breakfast plate, for about 2/3rds of the calories.

Just check out how you can break it down:

Denny's Grand Slam has 795 calories, 450 of which are from the 50 grams of fat, of which 14 grams are saturated. Is that bad? Well, just for comparison, a bowl of Cheerios in milk is only about 150 calories, with only 2 grams of fat, none of which are saturated. If you ate the Grand Slam instead of the Cheerios for a year, you'd be up 67 pounds at the end of the year.

Now, to be fair to Denny's, if you had two Sausage McMuffins with egg, you'd have had 900 calories, 54 grams of fat, and 20 grams of the dreaded saturated fat, and you wouldn't have even started on the hash browns yet, which I'm guessing you ordered, because, hey, combo meals are good deals, right?

So the Grand Slam is neither the best nor the worst thing you could eat for breakfast. But at $6.00 a pop for the things most days, you can probably do it cheaper and healthier on your own.

So that's what we did! Here are the components of the Grand Slam, with some tips for making it healthier:

Two Pancakes

For this one, my wife went with a lower calorie mix--I believe it was the Bisquick Heart Smart Pancake mix, but there are a ton of lower calorie, higher fiber pancake mixes out there if you just look.

Pancake Calories: 140
Calories So Far: 140


There are tons of syrups out there. Sugar-free syrups, low calorie syrups, and Walden Farms even has a zero calorie syrup, although the three reviews on Amazon seem to be mixed.

I normally don't go for syrup, but when my wife pulled out a bottle of some sugar free syrup with only 30 calories in a quarter cup, I went for it.

Calories in Syrup: 30
Calories So Far: 170


It's part of the iconic image of the Grand Slam: that big ol' scoop of butter sitting on top of the pancakes like a blob of ice cream.

Gotta tell you, although I love butter, I recommend leaving this one out. All of us did, and we didn't miss it. I will say that if you do use butter, feel free to use real butter instead of margarine--it's probably better for you. Just go sparingly.

That doesn't mean I didn't dress them up, though--I use peanut butter instead. If that sounds gross to you, that's fine--don't try it. But if you're curious, give it a whirl. We use the natural peanut butter your grind yourself at WinCo.

It's completely an indulgence, though. It's still 100 calories per tablespoon, but some of those calories are from protein instead of fat, it adds a gram of fiber, and the fat is that good, heart-healthy kind.

Calories in (Peanut) Butter: 150
Total So Far: 320

Two Sausage

Okay, here's where the fit meets frugal. For a buck, you can get 8 Farmer John links, enough for two each for the four of us. It actually was among the better choices without getting into the more expensive stuff, but the two links came in at 140 calories, with 12 grams of fat, 4 grams saturated.

The trick here is to keep it to just the two sausages. If you had a second two, you'd be just 40 calories shy of just the sausage having as many calories as the pancakes, syrup, and peanut butter combined.

Calories in Sausage: 140
Total So Far: 460

Two Bacon Strips

We used two slices of Farmland Hickory Smoked Bacon, which came in at 80 calories.

The astute among you will notice two things:

First, bacon only has about half the calories of sausage. If you like bacon more than sausage, you could skip the sausage and have 4 strips of bacon and save 60 calories, or six strips of bacon and only have 40 more calories.

Second, we didn't use turkey bacon. Unless you're getting some kind of nitrate-free, organic, super-healthy turkey bacon that I'm just not ready to shell out for, chances are your turkey bacon is loaded with tons of nitrates, sodium, and chemicals that make it taste almost, but not quite, entirely unlike bacon. As Mitch Hedberg used to say, "Somebody should tell the turkey to just be himself."

Calories in Bacon: 80

Total Calories in Alternate Meal: 540
Calories in Grand Slam: 795
Calories Saved: 255

I'll be waiting for the call from the Nobel committee.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

One Perfect Month: Day One

Okay, so here's the deal.

We've got this short month, four weeks starting on a Sunday and ending on a Saturday.

So here's the goal--for the entire month, exercise every day but Sundays and eat right every day. Stick to the budget. And then come back here and say how it's going.

Originally, this blog was meant to chronicle one year. I think I can pull off a month.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

How To Use The Eat This Not That Books

David Zinczenko has come out with three books so far in the Eat This Not That series. There's the original Eat This, Not That! , Eat This Not That for Kids!, and the recently released Eat This Not That! Supermarket Survival Guide.

All of the books have the same basic premise--they show some simple contests between two foods, and say which one would be better to eat, with both health and weight in mind.

They're usually based on two options at the same restaurant or two foods of the same type. Which is better to eat, the Big Mac or the Whopper? Is turkey bacon really better for you than regular bacon? How big a difference does it make if you get a strawberry ice-cream cone instead of a chocolate ice cream cone at Ben & Jerry's?

These are great books.

But reading some of the reviews of it around the internet, I want to try to make a few things clear:

These are not "pure" healthy eating books. A lot of the gripes people have with this book is that it doesn't go far enough. How can a book that has, say, a quarter pounder on the "Eat This" side really be a book about healthy eating?

However, the book actually goes a lot further towards being a "healthy eating" book than most of the critics give it credit for, sometimes putting higher calorie foods above lower calorie foods because of issues like sodium or trans-fat. But ultimately, this book isn't about pushing people to the extreme of healthy eating as . . .

This book gives people real world food swaps. It isn't a list of "All the healthy foods in the world," versus "All the unhealthy foods in the world."

Instead, it simply breaks down, given two choices, which one of those two you'd be better off picking. For example, on the Taco Bell page, the "Not That" side features the Baja Beef Chalupa. On the very next page, Uno Chicago Grill's "Eat This" page features the Cheese and Tomato Flatbread Pizza. If the contest had been just between those two, the Chalupa would have won--the individual pizza has 50% more calories, double the sodium, and triple the trans fat.

But that's comparing a pizza to a taco. When you look at the actual comparisons being made, two grilled steak soft tacos, fresco style really do bump the chalupa to the "Not That!" side, and you should "Eat This!" pizza if your alternative is the Chicago Classic Deep Dish individual pizza they have at the same restaurant.

Now you probably could have guessed the flatbreat would beat the deep dish, but believe me . . .

Many of the winners in these books are surprising. Would you believe that the quarter pounder I said was on the "Eat This!" side actually beats out McDonald's Premium Grilled Chicken Club? (You just have to hold the cheese.)

You'd think that the multigrain bagel with the lite cream cheese would beat out a breakfast sandwich with egg, ham, and cheese at Dunkin' Donuts, wouldn't you? But it doesn't.

Or that the kids' mini turkey burgers at Ruby Tuesday would be better for your kids than the deep-fried shrimp? (Actually, the book rates the turkey burgers the worst kids' burger in America.)

The book isn't all restaurants and fast food. While the most recent book is all about the supermarket, the other two books both have supermarket sections. The other books also have general menus for categories of restaurants (like BBQ joints, Chinese restaurants, Italian restaurants, and so on) with explanations of what to look for and what to avoid.

The kid's book also features a scorecard for Halloween candy and some recipes for healthier versions of kids' favorites like Mac 'n Cheese and Nachos.

Look, bottom line is that if you're already eating an all-organic, grass-fed, phosphate-free diet, then yeah, these books would probably be a step backwards for you.

But if you're living in the real world, buying your food from real places, this thing might come in handy once in a while.

Last time I was in an airport and I couldn't decide what to get, I wandered over to the bookstore, found a copy of one of these books, found something that looked good, then headed over to the place it suggested. Couldn't have been easier.

These books help you avoid the landmines you'd think would be healthy because of their names, find the manageable options you'd never have guessed, and make a few little steps in the right direction for the health of you and your family.

Of course, if you're sort of in the middle, like me--counting calories, but not looking for the "certified stuff"--this book's perfect, too. All your calorie info is in here.