Friday, February 24, 2012

A Tale of Two Salads

Here's a little story about two salads I ate recently. Both of them were in restaurants, both low carb, both made with fresh delicious ingredients. But I had two very different reactions to them because of one little variable.

My daughter and I were out shopping, and we decided to have a nice little "girls' lunch out" together at a new restaurant nearby. We went in, were seated, and as is my usual habit I began perusing the menu for salads. I found one that looked on plan and tasty: mixed greens, fresh mushrooms, cucumbers, tomatoes, hard boiled egg, crumbled blue cheese, and grilled chicken. Great! That is the kind of salad I love. But when I ordered, I made a mistake I have not made in years. I forgot to ask for "dressing on the side." I always, *always* do this. Let me tell you why.

When I was a kid, I used to go to salad bars with my dieting mom and her Weight Watchers friends. I remember loving the salad bar and feeling like I was so healthy! I piled my plate with iceberg lettuce, bacon bits, grated cheese, and croutons and then I ladled one... two... three or more large spoonfuls of blue cheese dressing over it all. I'd go back to my seat and mix it all together. So yummy! Every leaf and bit of cheese would be coated... soaked, even... in dressing. There would be a puddle of dressing left on the plate when I was done, which I would sop up with a buttered roll. And no one ever told me how unhealthy this was. It was the most vegetables I got as a kid unless you count canned corn and mashed potatoes with butter and gravy. I developed a taste for salad ONLY when it is *loaded* with dressing. Even as an (obese) adult, I would often feel dismayed at the piddly, tiny portions of dressing that restaurants would use on salads. I always asked for extra and used it ALL. Fast forward to weight loss efforts. I remember reading a tip: order dressing on the side, and just dip your fork into it for each bite. That way you get the taste of dressing without all the fat and calories. Ridiculous, I thought! But I tried it. I remember choking down a few bites. I could not even TASTE the dressing doing it that way! So I started out by dipping each bite of salad into the dressing on the side, so it was only half coated in dressing. This was hard for me to do. After all, salad was *all about* the dressing for me. It took me a very long time doing this before I started weaning off the dressing even more: dipping less of the veggies into the dressing, eating a few bites without dressing. Eventually I got to the point of the fork-dipping method, and this is what I've done ever since. I generally use a tablespoon or less of the dressing nowadays.

So the salad came to the table and immediately I saw my mistake. The salad was pre-tossed and *coated* in dressing... not as much as I used to use, but each leaf was definitely covered. Oh well, I thought, I will just have to watch my fat intake for the rest of the day. This will be a nice indulgence! May as well enjoy it!

I took a bite. Oh, wow. This did not taste like a salad. Don't get me wrong, the dressing was good, homemade, tasty. But I couldn't taste the vegetables! All I tasted was blue cheese. It was overwhelming. I picked out the cheese crumbles. I drank a lot of water. I ate 3/4 of the salad. But it was really just not enjoyable, and I vowed to never make that mistake again.

Fast forward to this week. I was out for a birthday dinner with family, and part of my dinner was a nice large side salad: fresh baby spinach, sliced mushrooms, hazelnuts, Parmesan cheese... and dressing. This time I definitely remembered to ask for dressing on the side, and it was divine! Most of the Parmesan shreds fell through to the plate, so I didn't get too much cheese (I got just the right amount). The veggies were so fresh and delicious! The nuts were toasted and flavorful. The dressing was a homemade creamy fresh dill dressing that was seriously fabulous! I dipped my fork in it every few bites to enjoy the taste. This salad tasted amazing to me, and right then and there I realized how much my tastes have changed. I am now one of *those people* who enjoys the flavor of plain, fresh vegetables! That makes me so glad. Just because the dressing was one of the best I'd ever tasted didn't make me want to pour it over my salad or drink it. When I was finished, the little cup of dressing looked nearly untouched. I might have used a half tablespoon at the most, but it was just enough. When the waiter came back, I complimented them on the dressing and asked how it was made. He looked puzzled because my salad was gone and the dressing was still there, yet I was raving about how good it was. And it really was that good.

Take heart. Even if you are like I used to be... only eating vegetables that are hidden under buckets of dressing or cheese or sauces... your tastes can REALLY change. And I don't just mean you will learn to *tolerate* plain veggies. I mean you can actually PREFER them in time. Just gradually cut down on your sauce or butter or salt or whatever you load up your veggies with. Take months to do it. Suddenly you will turn around and realize you are eating and *enjoying* your salads and other veggies nearly naked. It's a great feeling, and your body will thank you.


Mary Ellen Quigley said...

I'm one of those people that loves dressing. I have started buying light and calorie options, but I know it still isn't the best choice. The "dipping" idea sounds like a good plan. I will have to try that.

Anonymous said...

You have changed so much! I love how healthy you are becoming.

Holly from 300 Pounds Down said...

I have noticed my tastes are changing as well. I used to not like cucumbers or zucchini and now I actually like them. You make a good point about asking for dressing on the side. I haven't been doing this but now I'm going to start!

Steelers6 said...

I totally agree with the 'on the side', for dipping, etc. If I have a slice of avocado, I eat my salad with no dressing. Me like veggies! My tastes have changed..I prefer veggies..yum. :)

May I add that I think you should have sent the salad back at the new restaurant? Say it sweetly, y'know. I think I would have had to send it back bc I would not have been able to eat it. And perhaps management would have then learned from that, & not repeated that boo boo.

Also, if you & some of the commenters want to use dressing, they can go with something less caloric..(you know, the more clear dressings..) My dh uses Maple Grove Farms of Vermont, one of their vinaigrettes is 35 calories for 2T!
Happy weekend, Chrissy

Sugar said...

yea...I've transformed with my taste for sauces/ketchups too... I have realised that I cannot handle the sugarimes of it :)

LauraA said...

Great post! I also used to think the fork dipping method for eating salads was crazy, until I tried it and realized how fresh and crisp salads taste that way, when they're not soggy from dressing. Also very true about how your tastes can change - I also ate almost no veggies as a kid, but now I love them all!

timothy said...

i usually do cesar no croutons easy on the dressing but i will admit the fork dip has eluded me to this day! lolol but i will TRY harder in the future!

Orlaith said...

I dip my veggies in the dressing when I'm out but when I'm at home I make my salad in a large mixing bowl, measure in one Tablespoon of dressing and toss it well. Both methods work for me but I'm not up to dipping my fork in yet.