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The low fat approach

by Kim Paolino

The long, hot days of summer are upon us, time for soaking up rays at the beach, picnics in the park, back yard barbeques, and parties around the pool. It's entertaining, it's fun, and as with most social events (at least with my family and friends), becomes a big chow fest.

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If you're like me, you've worked hard over the long winter months preparing to uncover for summer, sculpting your body to fit into this year's swimsuit or short-shorts.

So we're ready to enjoy ourselves, and why shouldn't we? We look good, we feel good, and our calendars are jam packed with social gatherings. It's hot and we're hungry, but keeping that slim, toned physique can become quite the challenge.

It's okay to indulge in a couple of your favorite treats, but know when to draw the line. You don't want all that hard work you've done over the last several months to be in vain. Awareness, combined with moderation, will help us find the balance we need to keep in tiptop shape without forfeiting the merriment.

Ironically, lounging in our beach chairs and soaking up the sun can make us hungry, which means we're constantly reaching into the cooler, visiting the lunch counter for greasy burgers and fries, or waving over that chipwich guy one time too many.

No excuses, we have the control. We can prepare and pack anything we want to bring with us to the beach. As a kid growing up in Queens, New York, my grandparents use to bring their card table, potatoes and eggs for breakfast, macaroni and meatballs for lunch, and an array of fruit and junk food to nosh on all day (not too Italian huh?). Okay, as much as I loved it, that's not how I go about it today.

Fruit, of course, is a great, low fat, refreshing favorite. Wash it, cut it, bag it, and it's there for the snacking any time of day. The always popular, and easy-to-eat bagel or roll is a great meal for any gathering that begins in the morning. Scoop out the middle of the bagel or roll for a little less calories, remember, it all adds up. Another suggestion, skip the butter, one small pat contains 36 calories and a whopping 3 grams of fat. A light spread of jelly or low-fat cream cheese is the tasty low fat choice that makes this a great option.

For lunch try packing a salad. Buy the fresh, pre-washed, prepared salads in a bag. Toss in as many other vegetables as you like, carrots, cucumber, pepper, etc. Add a hard-boiled egg, some chic peas, or a serving of left over baked chicken. Top with low fat dressing, and viola, a refreshing, nutritious meal on a hot day.

If you opt for that deli sandwich, try turkey and tomato on wheat or rye bread with mustard. Light, thinly sliced whole wheat bread is an even better choice. Add lettuce, roasted peppers, and a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar to spice things up.

Avoid the fattening mayo and cheese; it gets all funky in the heat anyway. Too boring? Add sliced oranges, pickles or hot peppers for a little zing. Pass on the potato chips, and mayo drenched macaroni salad. Substitute with flavored rice cakes or pretzels to accompany your lunch. UTZ make a great dark pretzel if you want to try a something little different.

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Drink A LOT of water versus soda or fruit juices, it will quench your thirst without extra sugar and calories, and it does a better job keeping you hydrated under that blazing sun. Don't just be a blanket bum, get some exercise, walk the shoreline, play volleyball, or swim.

A tisket a tasket, try a low fat picnic basket. This relaxing time spent in the park with your closest friends, playing frisbee or softball, or just chilling around the picnic table might be one of the best stress relieving things you'll do all summer long. There's sun, there's shade, and there's always lots of good food. Again, take the control. Plan the menu ahead of time.

Prepare your salads without the heavy dressings. Steam some fresh string beans, cup up tomatoes, red onions, black olives, and boiled red potatoes. Toss all together with a drizzle of olive oil, some vinegar, oregano, salt, and pepper. Delicious...

Grill or bake some marinated chicken ahead of time. Cut it up and mix with steamed cauliflower and red peppers. Again drizzle with a bit of olive oil, paprika, garlic powder, and a sprinkle of grated cheese, salt and pepper. It's great hot or cold. You can even tuck it into a pita and make it a wrap. Pack along baked chips and salsa to munch on, and for dessert, low-fat or fat-free frozen yogurt with sliced bananas and a little light chocolate syrup is scrumptious.

Spark up the grill, because Saturday and Sunday afternoons in the summer are the ideal time for those barbeques and pool parties. It's time for food, frolic, and fun under the sun.

Choose the leanest cuts of meat, and trim off the excess fat. Remove skin from chicken and turkey. Yes turkey, it's great on the grill. Instead of coleslaw bathed in mayo, slice up some potatoes and onions, sprinkle with some salt and pepper, a little oregano, garlic and paprika, coat with an olive oil spray, and toss. Wrap well in some heavy-duty aluminum foil, making sure all edges are sealed. Cook over medium heat with barbeque cover closed for about 30 to 45 minutes. Turn occasionally.

You can prepare roasted vegetables right on the barbeque as well. Peppers, zucchini, onions, eggplant, whatever happens to be in the refrigerator is okay. Try grilling a couple of portabella mushrooms. Baste them lightly with olive oil, and season. They only take a few minutes. Turn once. Dice up tomatoes, white onions, garlic, and basil, dress with a balsamic vinegarette, and mix with the grilled mushrooms. Place over a bed of baby spinach and you have a tasty salad.

Eating right is really not that hard. Use your imagination, and learn what is lower in calories and fat. Experiment and enjoy. Remember, everything in moderation, even moderation.

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