Summer is upon us, and romance is in the air.
Fortunately, good nutrition and safe food practices work hand in hand to promote glamour. After all, what could be sexier than a well-toned body exuding buoyant good health?
Let me warn you up front, however, that this column is not about aphrodisiacs. There aren't any.
This is about creative planning to set the mood for a relaxed and enjoyable evening you'll both remember for a long time. And it's guilt-free. You can indulge without abandoning healthy habits.
First of all, don't work too hard cooking; you'll end up tired, tense and no fun at all. If the object is romance, cook smart, not long. Concentrate on the object of your affections rather than a complicated sauce.
Try beef en brochette on a bed of brown rice. Tender chunks of beef fillet can be grilled to rare perfection in five minutes. To prevent food poisoning, simmer your marinade for five minutes before basting the meat. Start the quick-cooking rice first; it takes about 10 minutes.
Keep the kitchen cool. Emerging hot, sweaty and rumpled wrecks your self-esteem. Prepare a cold scallop or shrimp salad ahead of time, then stuff it into a delicious, summer-ripe tomato just before serving. Baby Belgian carrots and sugar snap peas add color, shape and eye appeal to any cold or hot entree. They go from freezer to microwave to table in one dish.
Stick with small portions. Nothing will kill romance faster than feeling bloated and overstuffed. A four-ounce serving of meat, chicken or seafood is enough. Besides being nutritionally sound, small portions cost less, allowing occasional indulgence in fancier foods.
Minimize fat. Fat takes longer to digest than protein or carbohydrate. That means circulation is focused longer on digestion than on brain function or physical activity. So cut down on high-fat meats, rich sauces, heavy dressings, mayonnaise, butter and rich desserts.
Stick with bite-sized pieces. A "Tom Jones" eating style may be fun to watch, but you and your honey will probably be happier eating lobster salad than wrestling a whole lobster. Sharing a strand of spaghetti was cutely romantic for "Lady and the Tramp," but most humans will find pasta primavera more manageable when made with fusilli, mostachiole or even pasta dinosaurs.
Avoid gas-producing foods. If you and your love have not yet adjusted to a high-fiber lifestyle, a romantic evening is not the time to begin. Try a light salad of butterhead lettuce with rings of red and green pepper. There's plenty of nutrition there without the hard-to-digest fiber factor of some of the darker greens, broccoli, cauliflower or cucumbers.
Minimize alcohol. A little wine with dinner may relax inhibitions, but too much can put you to sleep or otherwise impair performance.
Choose a romantic setting. Use a tablecloth, real napkins, fresh flowers and some candlelight. Relax and enjoy.
You'll finish dinner a little bit hungry. And you'll have saved just enough calories for some whipped cream on your dessert.
Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore and national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.