Spring is finally here, which means tank tops, spring flowers and brunch season! Whether celebrating a birthday, recovering from last night's festivities, or simply enjoying the sunshine, everyone seems to have a reason to brunch on spring weekends. Who doesn't love soaking up the sun and drinking mimosas with friends? But with decadent food options like syrup-drenched pancakes, crispy bacon and hash browns, it's easy to overdo it. We've all been there. Let me help you conquer the brunch bonanza.
Eat breakfast before brunch. You wake up late (it's the weekend after all), and you've got two hours before brunch. So you think, "Why eat now? I'll just wait." No! Instead of starving yourself until the reservation time, eat a small breakfast within an hour of waking. Brunch usually happens closer to noon anyway, so treat it like lunch. Start your morning with a simple, small breakfast of an apple and natural peanut or almond butter; or go for plain yogurt with fresh blueberries and a small handful of pecans. Breaking the fast from the night before will rev up your metabolism for the day, keep you feeling satisfied until brunch and help prevent you from over-ordering and overeating at brunch.
Go easy on the carbs. Brunch portions have gotten out of control, as giant stacks of pancakes, waffles and French toast are on every menu. And while I'm OK with one pancake (especially if it's whole wheat or buckwheat), you're more likely to be served enough to feed a family of four. Even if you top them with fresh fruit instead of sugary maple syrup and whipped cream, these dishes are pure, refined carbohydrates. These carbs will cause a huge spike in your blood sugar followed by a plummet that will pack on the pounds and leave you hungry soon after eating. Pick a more balanced combination of protein, whole grain carbs and healthy fat, like a veggie omelette with avocado and whole grain toast. Many brunches also offer steel-cut oats topped with fresh fruit and nuts. And if you can't shake that sweet carb craving, split the pancakes with a friend, and have one with your omelet instead of toast. This will make for a much better proportioned and portioned meal that will also keep you satisfied.
Drink wisely. Many brunch menus now tout an "all you can drink" option, which is recipe for disaster with a capital D! I'm not saying you can't enjoy a bloody mary, mimosa or wine spritzer, but one is more than enough for a mid-day indulgence. These alcoholic drinks are an easy way to go overboard without realizing it. On top of adding their own calories, alcohol can inhibit your willpower to eat wisely; translation: When you're a little buzzed, you are more likely to eat more. Skip the bottomless brunch option and limit yourself to one alcoholic drink, or enjoy tea instead.
Enjoy your company—not the bread basket. The brunch bread basket has evolved way beyond your typical roll. It now includes muffins, scones, cinnamon toast and flavored spreads like Strawberry butter. (By the way, adding fruit flavor to butter does not make it healthier.) These items are typically low in fiber, high in sugar and fat, and made with refined carbs. Before you know it, you're stuffed before the meal has been served. Ideally, you'd avoid the basket altogether. If your fellow brunch companions agree, remove the temptation by asking the waiter not to bring the basket at all. If there is no chance your fellow brunchers will relinquish the opportunity to dig in, and you're going to be biting your fingernails while staring at the basket, sit far away and sip that iced tea. You can also ask the waiter to bring a fruit salad for everyone to split. Take a deep breath, stay in control, and enjoy your company!
Hash browns, home fries, french fries, Tater Tots—eat 'em later. The possibilities for a side of potatoes have become endless at the brunch table. I definitely encourage eating spuds, especially vitamin A-rich sweet potatoes. But the variations served with brunch are likely smothered in butter and oil, deep fried and ultimately negating any health benefit they provide in their natural form. You're better off opting for a green or fruit salad as a side to get your daily dose of vitamins and minerals. Save your spuds for a home-cooked meal in which you can control how they're prepared.
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Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and president of Nutritious Life, a nutrition practice based in New York City, and Nutritious Life Meals, a gourmet, healthy, daily diet delivery program available across the country. She is a member of Women's Health Magazine's advisory board and has authored Slim Calm Sexy Diet, The O2 Diet, and The Snack Factor Diet. Her fourth book, The New You and Improved Diet, will be released in December. Her expertise is regularly featured on the Today show, Good Morning America, and Access Hollywood Live, among others, and she hosts "A Little Bit Better" on YouTube's Livestrong Woman channel. Read more of Keri's tips every day on Facebook!