Every year, my high school tennis coach gave everyone on the team nicknames. It was like a rite of passage to receive your nickname, it not only meant that you had passed the threshold from junior varsity to varsity but also that you had earned a joking relationship with coach. I remember getting mine. Living in Dallas, pretty much every team party or dinner took place at a Tex Mex restaurant. And every time, I ordered fajitas, “except could I please have lettuce cups instead of tortillas with those?” I got a lot of grief about my avoidance of the chip bowl and my special request lettuce cups, so much so that lettuce cup became my team nickname.
About two years prior at the beginning of high school, I made a decision to cut out all grains; pasta, bread, cereals, rice, etc. At that point I was starting to take my fitness more seriously and I was trying it in an effort to improve my performance. The carb cravings were insane at first; literally a glimpse of a muffin would make me rabid. However after about four weeks, the cravings went away and I realized that I actually felt better. So five years in, I’m still doing it. It can be kind of difficult but I’ve found that the benefits are well worth all the ‘finicky’ ordering. Plus, avoiding breads has forced me to be creative both in ordering and cooking. It’s like a formula. High carb items like bread, pasta, and rice are typically vehicles for the real flavor and sustenance items. So the goal is to find other substitutes to be the vehicle. Here are some of my tried and true favorites.
• Spaghetti Squash- Discovering this stuff was the best thing that ever happened to me. Ever. It is a perfect substitute any time you want to use pasta. You get that same satisfying texture and it doesn’t have an overwhelming flavor that gets in the way of whatever you top it with whether it is chicken meatballs or a Bolognese.
• Broccoli- Whether I’m ordering Thai or Chinese, I find that broccoli is a good rice substitute. Asian restaurants typically always have it and will bring you some steamed. The florets are not only super-charged nutritionally but they act as little sponges to soak up all that green curry!
• Lettuce Cups (obviously) – I have become the number one advocate of lettuce cups and lettuce wraps. Iceberg is typically the best because it’s sturdy, crisp (so it holds up to fillings), and has pretty much no flavor to get in the way of the filling. I love to go the Tex-Mex route and fill them with sautéed chicken, onions, and peppers and top them with avocado, salsa, and queso fresco. A Thai spin is really good as well. Larb obviously works beautifully but if you don’t have that, brown up some ground turkey and top it with papaya salad and crushed cashews or peanuts.