Parent's Guide article

"Dining Out with Lauren"

It seems with all the portion distortion in our society, restaurants are finally taking a hint that we could get by on less and that it would do our wallets good, as well as our waistlines! Whether it’s the economic downturn or a way to keep food costs down, this new craze seems to be working. In the extreme heat we tend not to have a huge appetite, so smaller offerings are just perfect for this time of year. There is definitely a trend brewing among casual dining restaurants that may not only encourage healthier lifestyles among frequent diners, but also cater to a new demographic of customers choosing to dine out. Smaller plates, coupled with small prices typically found on tapas menus at Spanish restaurants, are now surfacing at popular national chains. I am a big fan of this style of dining as it allows you to sample different tastings without getting locked into one entrée or having to eat full portions of multiple selections. Here are some restaurants offering small bites, just right portions and small plates: To celebrate the season, Mimi’s Café invites guests to a Summer Rendezvous with exciting offers on tasty bites with a new “Small Plates” menu featuring 10 tapas-style dishes made for sharing. Try the Crab Fritters, Beef Sliders or “Potachos” (Kettle chips topped with smoky bacon and cheddar sauce, yum!). And here is my inside scoop, guests can enjoy a free Small Plate ($6.99 value) with a $15 purchase during lunch and dinner when they present a coupon available for download on the Mimi’s Cafe Facebook page, valid until August 27th. For a complete meal, that’s still petite, Mimi’s offers “Just Enough” and “Price Fixed” two and three course menus. The innovative California Pizza Kitchen recently unveiled their new “Small Cravings” menu with seven modestly sized and priced snacks to choose from. Anywhere from $4.50 to $7 can get you a moderate portion of Buffalo Chicken, The Wedge Salad, Mediterranean Plate, Sweet Corn Tamale Ravioli, and my new personal CPK addiction, the Crispy Artichoke Hearts! BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse introduced their new “Snacks and Small Bites” menu category adding nice variety and value with prices ranging from $2.95-$3.95. Menu creations include; fresh Tomato and Mozzarella Salad, Mini-Bruschetta and Chicken Fajita Quesadilla, with portion sizes that are perfect as individual appetizers or for additions to a favorite entree. As part of its ongoing menu transformation, Romano’s Macaroni Grill introduces a new “Mediterranean Lunch Menu” starting at $6.99, featuring delicious new recipes that are lighter and served faster than before, available Monday-Friday, 11am-4pm. Choose any two lunch favorites from fresh crisp salads (Fresh Greens or Caesar Salad), fragrant Italian soups (Amalfi Chicken or Pasta e Fagioli) or artisan half sandwiches (Grilled Chicken or Imported Prosciutto) served on toasted focaccia bread. As a true hallmark of the Mediterranean style of cooking, more than half of the items on the new lunch menu also contain less than 450 calories, offering guests choices that both taste great and are better for you. TGI Friday’s restaurant pioneered the “Right Portion, Right Price” phenomenon with their signature featured menu paving the way. Although it’s no longer an insert for the menu, look for the special icon next to classic favorites such as; Petite Filet, Pepper-Crusted Pork Chop, Gourmet Mac n’ Five Cheese, and the bestselling Dragonfire Chicken. Available all day, every day, starting at $8.99, fill up on flavor, not price as these smaller portions still satisfy big cravings. Eating out no longer has to be heavy, time consuming or expensive. Some of these items may only be available for a limited time, through the summer, so be sure to try them while they are. Be adventurous; mix and match, sample and share! Besides, who wouldn’t want to have more room for dessert? Rightly portioned of course!