It's a fact that more and more people eat out, stop at the market for takeout or pick up a "family pack" for the kids while driving through a fast-food eatery.
But what are they getting for their money? "Gluttonous grub" is the answer; sadly, that's just the focus in many of our nation's restaurants, especially in the chains.
Recent reports from the Center for Science in the Public Interest contain shocking statistics -- a pasta dish from a popular restaurant chain checks in at 2,500 calories with 85 grams of saturated fat. That's more than the total number of calories recommended for the average person daily.
However, there's light at the end of the tunnel. On March 23, President Barack Obama signed into law a bill which said that more than 200,000 fast-food and other chain restaurants must now include calorie counts on their menus.
Some restaurants are ahead of the new law. In response to the wave of "buy local," restaurants like the Harvest Seasonal Grill in Glenn Mills feature selections that take advantage of the fresh produce from nearby farms. Each dish weighs in at under 500 calories.
Seasons 52 in King of Prussia (and in Chicago -- and soon to be in eight other major U.S. cities) takes a giant leap beyond that. At all their locations, seasonally inspired menus are served in a casual but sophisticated atmosphere, with each dish at less than 475 calories.
A rack there also displays a dozen tantalizing desserts in shot glasses, ranging from 50 to 290 calories. They include a fruit medley to raspberry cheesecake -- hard to resist and guilt-free with just a couple of luscious spoonfuls. Local specialities are included.
In the King of Prussia restaurant, there are dishes for vegetarians, for those with allergies or on special diets (such as gluten-free), for diabetics, and for those who need to watch their sodium.
A sophisticated software system, specially designed for the chain, brings up the nutrient analysis of each dish. If you want to know the sodium content of any dish, it just takes a minute for the waitperson to find the correct amount.
Below are some recipes generously shared by Seasons 52 --and another inspired by the season itself. Each entree is less than 500 calories.
Chunky Caper Salsa
Courtesy of Seasons 52
2 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 cup tomatoes, peeled and diced
1/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup capers, drained and chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 lemon, zest and juice
4-5 dashes hot sauce
freshly ground black pepper
In a small pan, heat the oil over medium heat.
Add the garlic. Sauté 30 seconds or until golden-brown.
Remove garlic and place in a glass bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients and stir together. Allow to rest 30 minutes at room temperature before using.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 70; protein, 0 g; carbohydrates, 1 g; fat, 8 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 301 mg.
Simply Grilled Steak
Adapted from a Seasons 52 recipe
2 lbs. steak of your choice
2 Tbsps. hot sauce
2 tsps. rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. canola oil
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 tsp. kosher salt or to taste
Trim steak as needed.
In a small bowl, combine all the remaining ingredients except the salt.
Place steak on a plate and season with combined ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to grill.
When ready, fire up the grill, making sure that it's hot. Season steaks with salt. Lay steaks on the grill. Cook them at least halfway on one side, caramelizing before flipping. Avoid cooking over direct flame, as this may produce an off-flavor.
Check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer: 120° will be on the rare side, 130° is medium and 140° is well-done. You can also test by touch: Soft is rare; firm is well-done. Allow meat to rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Serves 4 to 6.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 345; protein, 46 g; carbohydrates, 0 g; fat, 17 g; cholesterol, 134 mg; sodium, 724 mg.
Herb-Roasted Red Snapper With Mushrooms and Spinach
4 plum tomatoes, cut into 16 thick slices
8 medium mushrooms, sliced
1 cup spinach, shredded
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, shredded
1 sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup good olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 red snapper filets (4 oz. to 6 oz. each), skin on
4 slices of lemon
Preheat oven to 400°.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, basil, onion and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Season both sides of the red snapper with salt and pepper.
Arrange on the baking sheet, skin-side down.
Top with the tomato mixture and then a slice of lemon on each. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil.
Bake in preheated oven 15 to 20 minutes, or until snapper is cooked through. Flakes should be opaque when separated with a sharp pointed knife.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 261; protein, 6 g; carbohydrates, 39 g; fat, 9 g; cholesterol, 127 mg; sodium, 158 mg.
Key Lime Mini-Indulgence
Courtesy of Seasons 52
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened, condensed milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 lime, juice and zest grated very fine (no white pith)
1 cup graham-cracker crumbs
8 tsps. whipped cream
tiny lime wedge
Preheat oven to 350°.
In a medium-size bowl, whisk the condensed milk with egg yolks until smooth. Whisk in the lime juice and zest.
Pour the mixture into an ovenproof pie dish. Bake for 13 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Refrigerate.
To Assemble: Layer graham-cracker crumbs and the lime filling alternately in each shot glass. Garnish with whipped cream and a lime wedge.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 261; protein, 6 g; carbohydrates, 39 g; fat, 9 g; cholest