Chef Sarah Stegner’s Tips for Eating Smart

James Beard Award-winning chef Sarah Stegner recently developed a healthy menu for her restaurant Prairie Fire, and in the process, she came up with substitutions that anyone can apply to his or her diet.

Stegner’s friend Mary Abbott Hess, a dietitian, nutrition expert and award-winning cookbook author, offered her guidance.

1. If you choose good, fresh foods, they won’t need much unhealthy embellishment.
“Anytime you use local, seasonal produce and a fresh, good protein, that’s healthy,” Stegner says. “I don’t say I want to leave out the butter, but if you have a fresh vegetable, you don’t have to do much to it.”

The butternut squash that Stegner uses at her restaurants, from local provider Genesis Growers—which uses natural, sustainable farming methods—is a perfect example. Stegner simply brushes it with olive oil, adds some salt and pepper, and bakes it. And, she adds, “Who doesn’t like grilled onions?”

And where do you get such beautiful produce, you ask? Join a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) to have fresh, local produce delivered to your home—to learn about CSAs that deliver to the North Shore, click here.

2. You can still get the flavor you want, with a lot less of the bad stuff.
A common modification Hess recommended to Stegner was simply sprinkling a very small amount of a high-fat garnish or sauce over a dish, to get the flavor without a ton of calories—just a sprinkling of goat cheese, just a dusting of bacon.

3. Don’t ever, ever skip breakfast—or any meal for that matter.
When asked about how she avoids the temptations in her restaurant kitchen, Stegner says, “About a year ago, I started eating breakfast. When I’ve had a good breakfast, I’m a thousand times more equipped to handle walking by a vat of chocolate. It’s when you’re hungry and undernourished that you have cravings.”

4. You can make healthy choices, even when you’re eating out.
Stegner was quick to point out that her restaurants, Prairie Grass Café and Prairie Fire, always feature healthy items on their menus—usually a grilled fish accompanied by vegetables. Watch the accompaniments (French fries with grilled fish?) and ask for substitutions of vegetables or a salad. Ask for sauces and dressings, which tend to be heavy and laden with butter, on the side. And remember, portion sizes at restaurants tend to be large. Get half boxed to go and you’ve got lunch for tomorrow.

Eat This, Not That

Here are the easy substitutions that Hess recommended to Stegner.

Sour cream: Stegner wanted to add it to a baked potato. At Hess’ suggestion, she replaced it with Greek yogurt. The result: Still delicious.

Mussels: “I need bread with my mussels,” Sarah said. So, Hess said, have your bread—but make it whole grain. A multi-grain baguette from Bennison’s Bakery made the change a positive addition to the meal.

Duck: Don’t take it off the menu, Hess said, just don’t serve it crispy and cooked in the fat. Instead, do a grilled duck breast—which Stegner found delightful.

To read about Stegner’s Resolution Club special menu at Prairie Fire, click here.

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