Weight loss starts with shopping. Taking control of what you eat begins with taking control of what you buy.
Every time you toss a low-calorie food into the cart, you’re taking responsibility for losing weightâ€”even before you sit down to a meal.
There’s a very simple formula for low-calorie eating: Stock up on low-calorie staples. These are the basic packaged, canned, and frozen ingredients that you’ll reach for to create tasty, healthful, low-calorie meals anytime.
The Picture Perfect Anytime List is a menu of the lowest-calorie produce, soups, sauces, condiments, marinades, dressings, dips, candies, desserts, and beverages available. Stuff your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer with them, and reach for them anytime. Feel free to go to the foods on the Anytime List when you want a snack or are planning a meal. Eat any amount of them for any reason. When the Anytime List becomes the core of your eatingâ€”in other words, the main dish around which you build your mealsâ€”you’ll have no trouble staying thin for life.
The Anytime List
Fruits and vegetables
All fruits and vegetablesâ€”raw, cooked, fresh, frozen, cannedâ€”belong on the Picture Perfect Anytime List. Avoid any packaged fruits that have added sugar. Otherwise, the more fruits and vegetables you eat, the better.
You’ve heard of value for your money. Soups give you very good value for the calories. They are filling; a bowl of soup can be an entire meal. They are satisfying. For many people, they are more satisfying than raw vegetables, while many give you all the benefits of veggies (if you choose the soups chock full of vegetables). They are inexpensive, convenient, easy, and quick to make. Soups don’t make you feel like you’re on a diet. Above all, soups are versatile. They can serve as a snack, as part of a meal, or as a cooking ingredient.
Sauces, Condiments, and Marinades
Put the following items at the very top of your shopping list. They’re invaluable for adding flavor, moisture, texture, and versatility to every food and every meal.
Salad dressings: oil-free or low-calorie (light or lite)
Mayonnaise: fat-free or light
Sour cream and yogurt: fat-free, plain, or with NutraSweet (or low-fat nondairy substitutes)
Mustards: Dijon, Pommery, and others
Tomato puree, tomato paste, and tomato sauce
Clam juice, tomato juice, V8 juice, and lemon or lime juice
Butter Buds or Molly McButter
Cooking sprays (such as Pam) in butter, olive oil, garlic, or lemon flavors
Vinegars: balsamic, cider, wine, tarragon, and others
Horseradish: red and white
Sauces: salsa, cocktail sauce, tamari, soy sauce, A1, Worcestershire sauce, barbecue sauce, ketchup, duck sauce, chutney, relish, and others
Onion: fresh, juice, flakes, and powder
Garlic: fresh, juice, flakes, and powder
Herbs: any and all, including basil, oregano, tarragon, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, dill, chives, sage, and bay leaves
Spices: any and all, including cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cumin, nutmeg, coriander, curry, paprika, and allspice
Extracts: vanilla, almond, peppermint, maple, coconut, cocoa powder, and others
Dressings and Dips
I recommend fat-free or light dressings and dips. The light categoryâ€”low-fat, reduced-fat, and low-calorieâ€”is midway between totally fat-free and regular, and it’s often more pleasing to the palate than fat-free.
Dressings can be used as all-purpose condiments, dips, toppings, even cooking liquids. They already contain a mixture of ingredients, so just slather them on vegetables, seafood, and pretty much anything else. Or cook with them to make up for the lack of butter or oil.
I recommend keeping several varieties of dressings and dips on hand, including at least one creamy version. Try brushing a light creamy dressing on seafood, then broiling; the dressing adds moisture and flavor.
Chewing gum or gum balls: any and all
Hard candy: any and all, including sour balls, candy canes, lollipops such as Tootsie Pops or Blow Pops, Jolly Ranchers, Werther’s Original, and TasteTations
Yup, candy. The real thingâ€”not the dietetic varietyâ€”is best when your sweet tooth starts aching. Dietetic candies have almost as many calories as regular candies, often lack flavor, and are an incentive to eat more. Stick to the real thing.
Soft serve: up to 25 calories per ounce, including Skimpy Treat; TCBY, Colombo nonfat frozen yogurt, and Tofutti
Hard pack: up to 115 calories per 1/2-cup serving, including Sharon’s Sorbet, Low-Fat Tofutti, all Italian ices, and Sweet Nothings
Frozen bars: Creamsicles, Fudgsicles, and Popsicles; any others containing up to 45 calories per bar, including Welch’s Fruit Juice Bars, Weight Watchers Smart Ones Orange Vanilla Treats, Tofutti Chocolate Fudge Treats, Weight Watchers Smart Ones Chocolate Mousse, Dolly Madison Slender Treat Chocolate Mousse, and Yoplait
Individually packaged frozen bars: up to 110 calories each, including FrozFruit, Hagen-Dazs bars, and Starbucks Frappuccino Blended Coffee Bars
Any fat-free frozen yogurt, frozen nondairy substitute, or sorbet is a fine addition to the freezer. Try the lower-calorie choices. Here are some examples:
Avoid beverages labeled “naturally sweetened” or “fruit-juice sweetened,” but help yourself to these:
Unsweetened black coffees and teas
Diet teas and juices: Crystal Light, Diet Snapple, Diet Natural Lemon Nestea, Diet Mistic, and others
Noncaloric flavored waters: orange, chocolate, cream, cherry-chocolate, root beer, cola, and other flavors of bottled or filtered water
Seltzer: plain or flavored, but check the calorie count if the product is labeled “naturally sweetened,” since this usually means that the product has sugar in one form or another
Hot cocoa mixes: 20 to 50 calories per serving, including Swiss Miss Diet and Fat-Free and Nestle Carnation Diet and Fat-Free; avoid cocoa mixes with 60 or more calories per serving
Let’s Go Shopping
Today’s supermarkets are filled with choices for the weight conscious. Here are some of the lowest-calorie choices for a variety of food categories that aren’t covered in the Anytime List.
Cheerios: a whole grain cereal with 110 calories and 3 g fiber per cup
Kellogg’s All-Bran with Extra Fiber: 50 calories and 15 g fiber per 1/2 cup
Original Shredded Wheat: 80 calories and 2.5 g fiber per biscuit
Fiber One: 60 calories and 14 g fiber per 1/2 cup
Wheaties: 110 calories and 2 g fiber per cup
Whole Grain Total: 110 calories and 3 g fiber per 3/4 cup
Low-sugar or sugar-free jams and jellies with 10 to 40 calories per tablespoon
Light breads with 40 to 45 calories per slice: oatmeal, premium white, wheat, rye, multigrain, sourdough, Italian
Whole grain regular breads or rolls
Rice and Pasta
Whole wheat/whole grain pastas: Hodgson Mill, Ancient Harvest
Whole wheat couscous
Pearled or hulled barley
Other whole grains: quinoa, whole grain cornmeal, kasha, bulgur, millet
Low-calorie frozen breakfast foods such as those from Kellogg’s, Aunt Jemima, and Pillsburyâ€”and a special mention for the low-calorie, whole grain offerings from Van’s
Low-calorie, vegetable-focused frozen meals in the 150- to 350-calories-per-package range, especially the Amy’s brand
All beans, dried or canned
Health Valley canned bean/chili combinations
Low-fat or fat-free refried beans
Make it a point to eat starchy, crunchy snacks only in conjunction with a food from the Anytime List. For example, have fruit with popcorn or soup with crackers. Fill up on the former, and go easy on the starchy snack.
Legumes: beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas
Soy products: bean curd/tofu, meat-replacement products by Boca, Gardenburger, Yves, and Lightlife
Seafood: fresh (do not fry!), smoked, canned, frozen
Note: Calorie counts in this story may vary depending on the brand of products used. Remember to check the labels.