How to eat all day long and not get fat

We recently drove from Vero Beach to Titusville, Florida with some friends we met at the marina, Don and Joan. The four of us wanted to watch the final launch of the space shuttle Discovery.

Joan had done her research on where to go, but with 100,000 people expected, we’d have to drive up hours early to get a good spot. We found our spot and placed our beach chairs around 11 am, and the shuttle launch was at 4:53 pm. That meant almost 6 hours to kill.

We were well-prepared, having brought our books and a variety of picnic foods to share. The problem was, while waiting, there wasn’t much to do but read, people-watch, and munch. So I munched and munched … and munched … all day long.

In situations like this, or a many-houred party with a buffet, it’s hard for me to stop eating. The food “calls out” to me and even distracts me from conversations. The toughest situations are those with many finger foods where plates are not available, so I can’t measure the total quantity accurately.

Luckily, I know my own weakness. So I had packed bulky, low-calorie foods for the shuttle launch. Here’s a list of some of them, along with a few other ideas for your next all-day food extravaganza:

  1. Vegetable crudites: You can eat things like mushrooms, radishes, cauliflower, celery, and cucumbers all day long without overloading on calories. I get bored with the usual choices, so I include strange crunchy things like peeled, sliced chayote, jicama, or white daikon radish.
  2. Dip for the crudites: Hummus, Black Bean Dip, Toasted Pecan and White Bean Dip, or New Horsey Dip are my favorites. They’re mostly made from whole ingredients (no soup or dip mixes), and the bean dips are loaded with healthy fiber.
  3. Marinated asparagus and red peppers: This is another vegetable finger food, but these vegetables have a completely different texture and flavor from the raw ones. They were definitely the gourmet treat of the day — hard to stop eating, but there’s no need to stop, because again, it’s just veggies. There are lots of marinated vegetable salads, or fruit+vegetable medleys, that would work instead, such as Bermuda Salad or Watermelon Sparkler.
  4. A big box of strawberries: Berries have lots of fiber without a lot of calories. Having to remove the stems and leaves is one way to slow me down from eating too fast.
  5. Oranges and grapefruits: Not only are they pretty low-calorie, they take even more work than strawberries.
  6. Individually-wrapped cheese sticks: Each time I eat one, I know it’s 100 calories. Once I’ve eaten one, I hesitate to open another one right away, knowing that’s going to double the calories.
  7. Rice cakes: I used to think they were boring and tasted like styrofoam. But my tastebuds are more sensitive these days (having eliminated much of the sugar from my diet), and I enjoy rice cakes with a little bit of natural, unsweetened peanut butter or bean dip on them. One trick is not to keep them around for more than a day or so after you’ve opened them. A freshly-opened package has much better crunch than one that’s 2 days old.
  8. Ham: I cut the ham into 1/2-inch cubes. It’s possible to eat too many of them, but at least they’re small and high-protein. If you don’t pack too much, you can’t eat too much.
  9. Nuts and dried fruit: These are dense but healthy whole foods. Again, if you don’t pack too much, you can’t eat too much.
  10. Beverages: It’s easy to consume just as many calories in beverages as you do in food. So we stick with water. But flavored seltzer is a nice treat, or unsweetened tea, or a mix of fruity tea and seltzer.

As I munched and people-watched, I noticed what other people brought for their picnics. Fried chicken, Doritos, beer, soda pop, Girl Scout cookies. If I ate that stuff all day long, I could easily consume two or three times as many empty calories as my body actually needs. If time is the issue, you can still shop at the grocery store and pick up pre-washed and cut fruits and vegetables. They’re more expensive than whole fruits and vegetables, but a lot cheaper in the long run (I’m thinking of your health) than junk food.