Dietitian Dine Around: Self-Serve Frozen Yogurt

It’s blazing hot out there! As an ice cream aficionado myself, one of my favorite ways to cool off is to indulge in a sweet creamy treat. And with National Ice Cream Month just around the corner (July), my latest Dietitian Dine-Around will be on self-serve frozen yogurt bars.

The fro-yo frenzy has only recently made its way to my area, but when I was living in Colorado two years ago these serve-yourself buffets were popping up everywhere. It’s like a candy-coated dream come true: a wall of a dozen or so frozen yogurt flavors, many of which tout “low fat,” “fat free” or “no sugar added” labels on them. Can’t be too bad for you, right? (eh…not so much)

Those fro-yo places are clever. First thing you do when you walk in is choose your bowl. Typically, your choices are: Big, Huge, and Ginormous. Seriously – the last place I went to had a bowl that could be used as a bucket to wash my car. Research by eating behavior expert Brian Wansink of Cornell University (author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think) shows that the size of the plate or bowl we use influences how much we serve ourselves. Typically, the larger the bowl, the more we take (and the more it costs – which means increased revenue for the franchisee. See, clever!)

Sure, you’re free to choose as much or as little frozen yogurt as you want, but with a myriad of delicious-sounding (and healthy-sounding) flavors such as nonfat Cookies N Cream or Greek Yogurt with a Touch of Honey or Soy Bean, it’s really hard to pick just one or two.

Credit: iStockphoto

Moving on to the topping bar – now THAT’s where things can get interesting. You can top your treat with everything from fresh cut-up fruit to Froot Loops; go traditional with Snickers crumbles or nostalgic with Nerds – the possibilities are nearly endless. Since you pay by the ounce, you might think it’s OK to allow yourself to go crazy on the flaked coconut but find yourself rationing yourself to one or two blueberries and other “heavier” toppings.

Now, I love a cool ice cream treat as much as anyone, but here are some tips to keep your waistline, wallet and taste buds in check:

  1. Choose the smallest bowl. Always. Even if you’re sharing. Believe me, it’s big enough.
  2. As with any buffet, check out your options first BEFORE you start piling on your plate (or in this case, bowl). Assess the flavors but also the topping bar. Think about what might go well together, and what would be overkill. A cookies n’ cream frozen yogurt flavor topped with crumbled Oreos sounds like overkill to me.
  3. Pick just one or two flavors of frozen yogurt to use as your base. Again, think complimentary, such as cake batter and strawberry, or peanut butter and chocolate.
  4. Practice restraint at the topping bar. Again, just a handful of toppings should be enough. Remember, soon this will all be a melted, gooey mess. Will you really be able to distinguish the Twix crumbles from the Kit Kat crumbles?

Otherwise, keep cool!


Disclaimer: The opinions on this post are my own. I was not compensated for writing this post, nor was I approached in advance by any of the companies or people mentioned within.

New feature: the Dietitian Dine Around

Today I’m launching a weekly blog series: the Dietitian Dine-Around. Each week I will feature a review of a food find at area restaurants and cafes. And although I’m a sucker for locally-owned businesses, for the most part  I’ll be reviewing items found at popular chains, so that non-DC-area-based readers can enjoy the “fruits” of my labor as much as the local folks.

Photo credit: Panera Bread

The first installment of Dietitian Dine-Around features a healthy food find from Panera Bread. This morning I found myself with about 20 minutes to spare while I waited for a local grocery store to open. In the same shopping plaza was a Panera Bread, so I decided to have a quick breakfast and some coffee.

A typical on-the-go healthy and satisfying breakfast for me is a bagel and peanut butter, but I was delighted to see a few egg and cheese sandwich options. I chose the Breakfast Power Sandwich – a complete 340-calorie meal of a grilled egg with cheese and ham sandwiched between a slice of whole grain bread. Eggs in the morning tend to satisfy me longer than most other breakfasts, so I was excited to try this healthy-seeming sandwich.

When my Panera Pager went off, I picked up my sandwich at the counter. I’ll be honest, what was awaiting me was a little disappointing. The sandwich looked bland and lonely on its large, bright yellow plate. The fork and knife provided were unnecessary, as the sandwich itself was just a slice of bread cut in half with the egg/ham/cheese layered between. I’m certainly not complaining about the portion – the sandwich was certainly filling and provided plenty of calories and nutrients – but eating is a multisensory experience, involving not just our taste buds, but also our noses and eyes, even our sense of touch (mouthfeel) and ears. No wonder healthy food sometimes gets labeled as boring…this sandwich certainly looked it.

Undeterred, I found a place to sit and picked up my breakfast, ready for the first bite. As I did, water dripped out and made a small puddle on my plate. How an egg, ham and cheese sandwich could be watery is beyond me, but sure enough I had a soggy sandwich.

Not only was it wet, but the sandwich was really salty. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, since both ham and cheese tend to be salty, but this combo seemed especially so. Sure enough when I looked up the nutrition info online when I got home, this 340-calorie meal wasn’t quite the bargain I thought: at 820 mg sodium, I was getting about 1/3 of my daily limit (current guidelines recommend no more than 2,300 mg sodium per day for the average healthy adult; that number drops to 1,500 mg for certain populations and those at higher risk for hypertension and heart disease).

Another closer look at the nutrition info found that my little sandwich had 15 grams of fat, 7 of which were saturated fat. Not terrible, but also a little high considering that 40% of the calories in the sandwich came from fat (most nutrition professionals recommend getting no more than 30% of calories from fat).

All told, six hours later I realize I didn’t need my usual mid-morning snack and am now finally ready for lunch. Still, here are some improvements I suggest to Panera:

  • Hold the salt! Not sure why additional salt is needed. Keeping it off will save 40 mg sodium.
  • Use lower-sodium ham and/or cheese.
  • Add some veggies for extra nutrients. The Mediterranean Egg White sandwich has spinach and tomatoes – those would be great additions to this “Power” sandwich as well.