The first time I walked into Wegmans, I felt overwhelmed by the choices. I wanted to sample everything. So brace yourself whenever you go into any store with such a dazzling array of options. With good decisions and a clear plan, you can have an enjoyable -- yet not-too-filling- -- lunch in a supermarket. Here is my guide:
1. Walk a lap around the store and survey all the options. If you are famished, grab a low-calorie food such as a fruit or salad to take the edge off your hunger before you decide what to buy. Choice is great, but it can get you into trouble. "Variety has an enormous passive effect on calorie intake," says Susan B. Roberts, professor of nutrition at Tufts University School of Medicine. "The higher the variety of items you are confronted with, the more most people consume without even realizing it."
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2. Plan your meal. Your goal is to find a satisfying, balanced meal containing about 500 to 600 calories for women or 700 calories for men. Half of the meal should be fruits or vegetables for your nutritional needs, but also because studies show they help you feel full without too many calories. One- quarter of your meal should be a grain -- whole grain, if possible, for instance, from whole-wheat bread (two one-ounce slices) or brown rice (about one cup). The other quarter should be a protein, which might be three to six ounces of chicken, seafood, lean beef, lean pork or vegetarian protein sources such as tofu or legumes.
3. Stick with items for which you have nutritional information. "Calories at a glance" are posted at each prepared food station, but more complete nutrition information is posted on the Web site (www.wegmans.com)where you can find the carbohydrate, protein, fat, fiber, sodium, vitamin and mineral content of the foods.
4. Start with vegetables and fruit. The Wegmans black takeout plate, found at the Wokery, is divided into four sections, each of which holds one cup. Fill one-quarter with vegetables such as sauteed green beans (110 calories per cup) and the second quarter with cut fruit, such as strawberries, watermelon and pineapple (100 calories per cup). Try to choose as many colors, shapes and textures of fruits and vegetables as you can find to take advantage of our natural desire for variety. Each color represents a unique class of nutrients. Studies show that people who eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables eat more of them and are leaner and healthier.
5. Select a grain, preferably whole. If you would like rice, fill the third quarter of your plate with steamed rice (160 calories per cup). Make the portions level, not heaping, so they don't contain more than one cup. You could also choose a whole-grain roll (170 calories), a slice of whole-wheat pizza or the brown-rice sushi (140 calories). Avoid the larger or fattier breads such as bagels (240 to 420 calories each), muffins (420 to 510 calories each), scones (at 4.2 ounces, 420 calories each) or croissants (at 2.5 ounces, 250 calories each).
6. Steer clear of the Sub Shop, where the 14-inch sub uses a 12-ounce slab of bread. Bread is about 80 calories per ounce, so the bread alone contains about 960 calories, more calories than you want your whole lunch to be.
7. Choose a lean protein. Go to the Wokery and select the pepper steak (80 calories per cup), pork with scallions (120 calories per cup) or chicken with vegetables (160 calories per cup). If you've chosen a whole-wheat roll to make your own sandwich, go to the deli counter and choose four to six ounces of the Wegmans seasoned roast beef (30 calories per ounce), Columbus fire roast pork (35 calories per ounce)or the Healthy Choice mesquite chicken breast (30 calories per ounce). Vegetarians might try the vegetarian chili (180 calories per cup). To hold down the calories try to take as little of the Wokery sauce as possible. Ask for a slotted spoon if necessary.
8. Fulfill your calcium requirement. Go to the dairy case for skim milk, calcium-fortified soy milk, yogurt or soy yogurt (90 to 150 calories).
9. Avoid the obvious pitfalls, such as anything deep-fried, crispy or creamy. Such items are loaded with calories. Also, be careful about the liquid calories. Stick with items for which you have nutritional information.
10. Want a menu, ready to go? Jane Andrews, Wegmans corporate nutritionist, suggests the following healthy meals without excessive calories:
Spicy red lentil soup, (Prepared Foods section, 12 ounces, 255 calories) with cheddar cheese (Cheese Shop, 1 ounce, 110 calories) and 1 large apple (Produce, 100 calories), ice water. Total: 465 calories.
Just roast beef (Deli, 4 ounces, 120 calories) on whole-wheat or multigrain roll (Bakery, 2 ounces, 170 or 230 calories) with mustard (10 calories) and fresh cut fruit (Prepared Foods, 1 cup, 100 calories), ice water. Total: 400 or 460 calories.
Beef, chicken or seafood and vegetable stir-fry (Wokery, 1 cup, 120 calories) with sauteed green beans or mushrooms (Wokery, 1 cup, 110 calories), fried rice (Wokery, 1 cup, 220 calories), shrimp spring roll (80 calories), ice water. Total: 530 calories.
Roasted vegetable and provolone wheat wrap (Prepared Foods, 6 rolls 405 calories), clementines (Produce, 2 small; 80 calories). Total 485 calories.
Vanilla yogurt (Dairy, 6 ounces, 150 calories), fresh cut fruit (Prepared Foods, 1 cup, 100 calories), roasted almonds (Bulk Foods, 22 almonds, 170 calories.) Total: 420 calories.
Katherine Tallmadge is a Washington nutritionist and the author of "Diet Simple" (Lifeline Press, 2004). Send e-mails to her at email@example.com.