After two weeks in America I decided I had the answer to the obesity epidemic (not really, but here are my observations on the food situation in California).
Let’s start with good old breakfast – the most important meal of the day, which, in California seems to include maple syrup, maple syrup and maple syrup…
In all seriousness, even I was surprised by what was on offer for breakfast. Most of the time my husband and I ate our breakfast at local cafes rather than just at our apartments or hotels, and so I think we got a fairly clear picture of what it was like to eat breakfast out and about in California.
The most popular items for breakfast were:
Pancakes and waffles
A variety of cakes
America is known for its pancakes, and so it should be. Pancakes were on offer everywhere and, naturally, came in twos or threes. Our first breakfast experience included three giant American style pancakes complete with lemon sauce in the middle and covered with maple syrup and blueberry coulis.
Waffles with maple syrup or chocolate sauce was another popular breakfast option and in most places where there was a ‘buffet’ option, cakes were also on offer, including pink sprinkled doughnuts, chocolates éclairs and a LOT of blueberry/double chocolate chip muffins….only slightly more calorie laden than our traditional English muffins 😉
Toast was generally French…meaning that it was often fried with egg AND brought out with a side serving of…maple syrup. And typical breakfast cereals were usually fruit loops – which are shockingly, (or perhaps not) made up of around 40% sugar.
Healthier breakfast options were available, but were a little harder to come by. The granola seemed to be very sweet and was usually offered with a fruit yoghurt – although it was often possible to ask for a plain yoghurt instead, but it certainly wasn’t the default option. Sometimes we came across oatmeal (porridge to you and me), which was offered with fruit or…maple syrup!
Eggs were also a really popular breakfast option, and as most Americans are more than happy to accommodate if you want a healthier option, it was easy to ask to have your eggs grilled, scrambled or poached.
America is also well known for their portion sizes – one of the main reasons that America is thought to be one of the front runners in the obesity epidemic.
I have already mentioned the ‘giant pancakes’ but all drinks, snacks and meals were huge; both my husband and I struggled to ever finish a whole meal and very rarely made it to dessert!
Bread is (as it is now in England) commonly brought out with oil and vinegar at the start of the meal and if you finish the basket, it is topped up again – making you full before you’ve even begun…!
For mains, portions of meat and cheese, in particular, were large, and often came with very little in the way of salad and vegetables. Again it was always possible to ask for more vegetables, but it certainly wasn’t the default option.
Mexican food is also really popular in California and this usually involves plenty of sauces, crisps and cheese – a delicious but also extremely calorific combination.
At one point we grabbed some food on the go in Vegas and opted for a slice of pizza to keep us going through the madness, and the ‘slice’ ended up being almost the size of a full pizza, luckily we only ordered one.
Many of the quick-stop shops and ‘drive throughs’ were full of ‘junk’ food (as in England) and it was often difficult to pick up healthy options at all whilst at these places. In theme parks it was nearly impossible. However the one thing American tourist attractions do really well is in having free water fountains available – something I personally don’t think we’re so good at doing in the UK.
We were lucky enough to visit a ‘whole foods market’ in Santa Barbara whilst we were staying in America, which was incredible and had so much in the way of healthy food including a huge salad bar, nuts and seeds, dried fruits, healthy cereals and plenty of fresh, wholefood produce. The downfall? It was incredibly expensive and we ended up spending more on one ‘quick’ evening meal than we would have done if we had gone out for dinner.
California is seemingly very keen on ‘organic’ food and loves to label foods as organic, wholesome, and fairtrade, which is certainly a good thing but I wonder if many people understand that ‘organic’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘healthy’?
However, although healthier food was hard to come by, breakfasts were tricky and the portion sizes were huge, California was an absolute dream and the weather, beaches and beautiful parks should be enough to get anyone outside and exercising to counter all those calories!