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The Modern Diner of Pawtucket, R.I., holds the distinction of being the first diner in the country to be accepted by the National Register of Historic Places. It dates back to the 1940s. Photo courtesy Kenneth C. Zirkel

Prairie Fare: Restaurant experience a trip back in time

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I recall a restaurant experience several years ago at a very unique place outside of my home state.

Our windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the pouring rain as we drove down the unfamiliar city street in search of a restaurant.

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Then the tiny dining car came into view. We paused before leaving our vehicle, hoping for a reprieve from the cloudburst. Our grumbling stomachs won.

My husband, our kids and I raced through the drenching rain to the door of the restaurant. Dripping wet, we were directed to the only open booth. The grip of my new tennis shoes was no match for the greasy, wet floor. I slid across the floor to the booth and gripped the edge of the table to prevent myself from sliding under it.

I thought we had stepped back in time. We read with interest about the celebrities who had eaten at the diner in its long history. I dropped a quarter in the jukebox, and records from the 1950s dropped creakily into place, filling the small space with nostalgic tunes.

If I squinted a little, my husband, with his wet, slicked-back dark hair, even looked a little like Elvis. I told him that, anyway.

The food was tasty but a little greasy. Our kids ate heartily. We still remember the experience.

Everything was authentic to the 1950s except the portion size. If we had been magically transported to the 1950s, our portions would have been much smaller.

The burgers, fries and shake portions of the 1950s would have been more in line with today’s “child-sized” meals. Instead, we each were served platters heaped with food.

We probably ate enough food for a couple of days.

Was I concerned? I would be concerned if we ate that way every day. But our heavy meal did not mean that we would need a prescription for cholesterol-lowering medication. We probably wouldn’t be needing larger-sized clothing after this “big treat,” either.

We cook and eat most of our meals at home, which saves money and gives us control over our food. Children who eat more often with their families at home are less likely to be overweight.

In the years since our “step back in time,” the talk about obesity and being overweight has been nearly constant on TV and other media. If you open a magazine or newspaper or visit a website, often you will come upon an advertisement for a weight loss product or plan.

Whether we are at a restaurant or a grocery store, nutrition information usually is available. Many restaurants provide nutrition information on tray liners or brochures, and some list the number of calories by the item on the menu board.

Cellphone apps provide nutrition information at our fingertips. A quick search of reputable sites on the Internet will yield nutrition information you can use.

When you pick up products at the grocery store, consult and compare nutrition labels.

Use the tools that work for you and remember these straightforward tips based on the most recent U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans:

  • Use a smaller plate to help with portion control.
  • Take your time. Eat slowly and enjoy the taste and textures of the food you eat.
  • Drink water or other calorie-free beverages when you are thirsty.
  • Enjoy more vegetables and fruits.
  • Choose lean proteins.
  • Make half of your grain choices whole grains.
  • Opt for low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
  • Cut back on foods high in solid fats, added sugars and salt.
  • If you eat out, choose healthier options.

Here’s a recipe to enjoy with some of summer’s fresh produce, such as carrot sticks, lettuce salad and strawberries, and a glass of fat-free milk. Visit www.ndsu.edu/eatsmart to see our new magazine with a variety of recipes.

Italian Sloppy Joes

1 pound extra-lean ground beef (or Italian sausage or ground turkey)

Cooking spray

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

½ medium green bell pepper, chopped

1 28-ounce jar spaghetti sauce, reduced-sodium

½ teaspoon ground pepper

6 whole-wheat hamburger buns

Brown and drain meat. Spray a large skillet or medium saucepan with cooking spray. Heat the skillet or saucepan on medium and add the olive oil. Add the onion and pepper; cook until soft, approximately five minutes. Add the cooked meat and sauce; simmer until heated through. Season with pepper.

While the sauce is simmering, split each bun in half and toast until lightly browned. Spoon one-sixth of the meat mixture on each bun and serve.

Makes six sandwiches. With beef, each sandwich has about 300 calories, 8 grams of fat, 23 g of protein, 35 g of carbohydrate and 4 g of dietary fiber. The sodium content will vary depending on your choice of spaghetti sauce.

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