For this month's Make Over My Meal came a novel subject -- the man who never eats in.
"I eat out 21 meals a week, 52 weeks a year, year in and year out," real-estate lawyer Stuart Kaplow wrote to us. "And no, I never do takeout."
Working hard and playing hard are firmly in Kaplow's repertoire. But cooking? Not so much. He says he doesn't generally bring food into his Brooklandville home. Nor does he set foot in grocery stores. Late-night munch-ies? Because he likes to be ready to wake up early, that's not a problem. Snack attack at work? There's a 7-Eleven across the street from his Towson office that sells bananas. Snowed in? "I have a four-wheel drive."
For breakfast, he's usually at Stone Mill Bakery in Green Spring Station, enjoying a cup of coffee and a slice of raisin-walnut bread, or occasionally a bowl of oatmeal. Lunch might find him at one of Towson's sushi spots.
For dinner, Kaplow, who lives alone, is more likely to roam in search of a good meal -- to steakhouses like Morton's and Fleming's; to Sabatino's in Little Italy (and Vaccaro's for dessert); or to the new Longo's restaurant in Green Spring Station.
One of his favorite eateries is Linwoods in Owings Mills, because he likes the food and the kitchen is willing to make substitutions. So we chose that as the place to make over Kaplow's dinner with Robin Spence, a registered dietitian at Union Memorial Hospital and our makeover series expert.
Kaplow's restaurant habit might be extreme, but many of us are eating lots of meals that we haven't prepared ourselves. Americans are dining out an average of four to five times a week, according to the National Restaurant Association. Though nutritional information is becoming easier to find on menus, it's not typically available at the kinds of places Kaplow frequents.
It's not that Kaplow, 47, throws caution entirely to the wind. He said he often makes a point of leaving food on his plate. And he exercises far more than most people -- an average of one to two hours a day, he says.
When he dined with us at Linwoods, he reported that he had just returned from completing a duathlon -- 56 miles of biking and 13 of running -- in California. Last year, he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Using a special scale, he keeps track of his body fat by the week and reports that it hovers in the very trim range of 12 to 19 percent. If the percentage creeps higher, he works out more.
"I'm certainly making an effort," Kaplow said. "But I think that it's an ongoing struggle to try to find reasonably healthy food."
His Achilles heel is red meat. He likes to eat a substantial order a couple of times a week. And no, a 6-ounce piece of relatively lean beef tenderloin wouldn't really do -- he likes heftier portions and juicier (i.e., fattier) cuts.
"I'm reluctant to leave beef on the table," he said. "I used to say I would never eat something the size of my head. Now pieces of meat often come out the size of my head."
On the night we asked Kaplow to order what was for him a typical meal at Linwoods, the recent duathlon had clearly left him hungry. He started off with two small pieces of a thin-crusted caramelized onion pizza, which wasn't on the Linwoods menu, but used to be available at Due, Linwoods' now-closed sister restaurant.
That was followed by an iceberg wedge dressed with an ample amount of creamy blue cheese. Kaplow opted for a sprinkling of bacon, too. Then it was on to a succulent, 18-ounce grilled veal porterhouse on a bed of spinach and potatoes. And a trio of miniature chocolate treats for dessert. He washed it all down with Coke, which he often drinks at dinner.
What did Spence think as she digested her sensible crab cake? "The size of the meat worries me," she said diplomatically.
When she got back to her office later to analyze the dinner, it worried her even more. Though the veal (which amounted to about 12 ounces without the bone) was leaner than beef -- and Kaplow's exercise may buy him as many as 3,000 calories a day -- he still had consumed more than his entire day's allotment of saturated fat in one meal. "He can run off the calories, but he really can't run off all the cholesterol, all the saturated fat," she said. "I think he certainly decreases the risk, but he doesn't negate it."
Our goal was not to turn Kaplow into a home cook; that's clearly not going to happen. But Spence -- and even Linwoods' owner Linwood Dame -- thought Kaplow should start eating more like he's having everyday meals at home, even if those meals take place in a fine restaurant.
That means ordering differently than many of the diners around him, for whom dinner at a place like Linwoods might be more of a special occasion. Those people can order without thinking too much, Spence said, because they'll (we hope) return to a routine of more modest eating at home.
But Kaplow needs to be more selective. "It can't be a free-for-all every meal," Spence said.
That means, for one thing, portion control. Because Kaplow doesn't want to take a doggie bag home, he could ask the kitchen to just hold half his entree at the outset. He can have a salad or a well-chosen appetizer, Spence said, but usually not both. He should beware of the words "crispy" (often code for fried) and "creamy" on menus.
Kaplow should seek out more vegetables and whole grains as accompaniments and ask to substitute them when possible for more caloric side dishes. Because he loves chocolate for dessert, he could ask for just one item out of the trio, or (better still) have fresh fruit. And, said Spence: "Ditch the Coke."
Dame agreed that his regular customer needed a little restraint. "If you eat out a lot -- which a lot of people do; that's how they eat -- [Kaplow] needs to sort of train himself to pick and choose things," he said. That's why he's put more healthful items on his menu, including a "simply-prepared fish" with vegetables that he said is a big seller.
But Kaplow rejected that suggestion for his "after" meal. "Why come here with all the wonderful sauces and do that? It seems like a waste." Nor would he go for an entree salad that would give him more leafy greens.
He did agree to return to Linwoods and have half an order of the roast chicken he likes, with the skin taken off before serving. He would have vinaigrette on his iceberg wedge and hold the bacon (and the pizza and Coke). For dessert, he said he'd give the mixed berries Spence had ordered a try.
Was the scaled-down meal enough for this diner-about-town?
"It was delectable and surprisingly rich," Kaplow e-mailed the next day. "It goes to show if you go to one of the finest restaurants in town, they will make a skinless chicken breast into a mouthwatering feast. ... Even the berries satisfied my 'sweet tooth'.
"I would observe that my stomach was growling this morning after my workout. I was hungry ... so, in addition to my usual Stone Mill run, at midmorning I ate a banana from 7-Eleven."
EAT YOUR VEGGIES
Look for entrees that come with several kinds of vegetables. Ask how they're cooked before you order, though, to avoid hidden butter and cream.
Roasted chicken makes a homey alternative to a large slab of red meat, with a fraction of the saturated fat. Request that the skin be taken off to avoid calorie overload.
Main courses in restaurants tend to be hefty. If you eat out often, consider asking for half of a regular order (the chicken pictured here). Have your server wrap up the rest, in advance, so you won't be tempted.
DRESS WITH CARE
Vinaigrette gives zip to salad without the saturated fat and calories of creamy dressings, and with the more healthful "good fat" of olive oil.
FINISH WITH FRUIT
An order of mixed berries is a great way to get more fruit (and save calories) while dining out.
ROBIN SAYS ... Robin Spence, a dietitian at Union Memorial Hospital, helped make over Stuart Kaplow's dinner. Above are her tips from the makeover session.
LOOKING FOR WAYS TO EAT BETTER? If you'd like to be a candidate for Make Over My Meal, send an e-mail to email@example.com with "Makeover" in the subject line, your name and phone number, and a bit about the meal (or snack) you'd like us to make over.
ONLINE Read how Stuart Kaplow has made food choices since the makeover, and see past installments of Make Over My Meal, at baltimoresun.com / makeovermymeal.