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Prairie Fare: Tighten Your Belt With Wise Dining Decisions

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
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Although the prospect of eating leftovers while on vacation wasn’t exciting to our kids, the food still was tasty the next day.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“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 entrée 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 entrée 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.
  • If you decide to have dessert, split it with at least one other person.

Try making your own restaurant-style food at home. Here’s a recipe courtesy of the Pennsylvania Nutrition Education Network. You can make these burritos as mild or spicy as you like by varying the salsa. If you like extra spice, add some ground cumin, chili powder or taco seasoning to the rice and bean mixture.

This meal is budget-friendly, too. A serving (about one-eighth of the recipe) costs less than 50 cents.

Bean and Rice Burritos

2 c. cooked rice (2/3 c. raw rice prepared according to package instructions)

1 small onion, chopped

1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Spices such as chili powder or cumin (optional)

8 (10-inch) flour tortillas

1/2 c. salsa (plus more to serve on the side)

1/2 c. grated cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Prepare the rice as directed on the package. Rinse and peel the onion, then chop it into small pieces. Pour the beans into a strainer, then rinse well with running water. Drain. Mix the cooked rice, chopped onion and beans (and spices such as chili powder or cumin, if desired) in a bowl. Place tortilla on a flat surface and top with 1/2 cup of the rice and bean mixture. Fold the sides of the tortilla to hold the rice and beans. Put each filled tortilla (burrito) in the baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes. Pour the salsa over the baked burritos and top with cheese. Serve warm.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 370 calories, 8 grams (g) of fat, 60 g of carbohydrate, 5 g of fiber and 560 milligrams of sodium.

For more information about food preparation and preservation, see the Prairie Fare blog at

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Aug. 23, 2012

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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