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Lessons from the Canyon Ranch Dining Room

Steal our tried-and-tested techniques for healthy meals you’ll actually enjoy
Written by 
Canyon Ranch Staff
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 

At Canyon Ranch, we believe that food should be delicious, fresh, boldly flavored, simple and above all, joyful. Gone are the days of “dieting." Our signature nutritional guidelines are based on the latest research about the Mediterranean Diet, advice from our expert practitioners and the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines on healthy eating. 

Many guests come to Canyon Ranch with a common goal: They want to learn how to eat better as part of their journey toward achieving a healthy weight and overall wellness. A major part of that experience takes place in our dining rooms. “We hope a subtle education happens when you see what comes to your table when you order a meal here,” says Marilyn Majchrzak, M.S., R.D.N., Canyon Ranch’s corporate food development director. “We built into the program the fact that you can have a three-course meal—soup, salad or an appetizer, and an entrée plus dessert—for probably fewer calories than one main course at some restaurants. Many people tell me, ‘I was so surprised because I didn’t feel deprived.’”

That’s the whole point. Our most basic nutritional philosophy is simple: moderation, not deprivation. When you open our menu, it looks like any another restaurant menu. “It’s not Spartan,” Majchrzak says. “There’s a whole section of appetizers, including an area devoted to vegetable sides. There’s even bread or rolls; it’s abundant.”

Whether or not you’ve visited Canyon Ranch, you can steal our tricks for healthy and delicious meals that celebrate the true pleasure of eating. Here are the most important lessons you can take from our dining room and menu:
 

Build Meals Around Plants Instead of Protein

We promote a plant-based diet in our dining rooms. While we don't push vegetarianism or veganism (which can certainly be healthy approaches to eating), we do believe that most of us could benefit from a diet that focuses a lot more on plants and less on animal protein. We emphasize vegetables and whole grains, and deemphasize—but don’t exclude—protein from animal sources. At home, this can mean filling more of your plate with plants, or it can take the form of an occasional meatless meal. As the Canyon Ranch menu has evolved, we’ve put more emphasis on delicious and generously-sized vegetable appetizers that can be a real star of the meal. “We encourage people to try vegetarian food so they can at least find out what that food is like,” Majchrzak says, who adds that these veggie-based dishes are beautifully presented on the plate at Canyon Ranch (more on plating below).

The Lesson: Don’t let vegetables be an afterthought to your meals. Instead of thinking, “Am I going to have a steak or a pork chop for dinner tonight?,” think about the vegetable you’ll prepare first. Experiment with different veggie recipes instead of your old stand-bys. Simply roasting or grilling brings out the sweetness of many vegetables while maintaining some of their crunch and can make cooked veggies more enticing than steaming or boiling, Majchrzak says. Toss vegetables in olive oil and herbs before popping them in the oven or onto the grill. “A great way to get a lot of flavor on vegetables is with some grated Parmesan” sprinkled on top before serving, Majchrzak says. “A tablespoon is only 25 calories and about two grams of fat.”

More: Eating the Canyon Ranch Way
 

Offer a Salad Bar

At Canyon Ranch we encourage guests to eat a generous amount of vegetables, but some, including many men, won’t touch a cooked veggie. That said, we do see many guys enjoying our salad bar, perhaps because of the appealingly crunchy texture of raw veggies.  “A lot of men will eat more salad than they will cooked vegetables,” agrees Majchrzak.

The Lesson: If you or someone in your home isn’t a fan of vegetable sides, place more emphasis on fresh salads. Think about what makes a salad bar so appealing and try to re-create that at home: Stock the fridge with fresh salad greens (anything from romaine and spinach to kale and mustard greens), and have on hand plenty of yummy mix-ins that provide texture, color and a variety of flavors: grape tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, apples, nuts, seeds, shredded cheese, raisins and so on. You can even toss in canned garbanzo beans or frozen corn or peas quickly thawed under running water. Mix a high-quality olive oil with a flavored vinegar or citrus juice for a super-easy homemade dressing that’s light on sodium and preservatives but packed with flavor.  
 

Eat What You Want, Just Less of It

When you’re craving, say, chocolate or cheese, there’s really no good substitute, and we think that’s OK. After all, what’s life without a few indulgences? The Canyon Ranch dessert menu offers a very small cheese-and-fruit plate that comes in at just 150 calories. “It looks miniscule, but it gets people thinking about how the calories from cheese add up very quickly,” Majchrzak says.  And while our chefs experimented with using low-fat cheese in recipes like mac and cheese, we found that it didn’t taste as good as when we simply used a smaller amount of regular cheese. So we opted to stick with the real thing—just less of it.

The Lesson: Sometimes it’s better to eat the real deal; and that’s perfectly all right as long as you keep portion size under control. When it comes to sweets, remember that it’s possible to feel satisfied with just a few bites (we promise!). If you’re a cheese lover—and who isn’t?—you can opt to cook with full-fat varieties of cheese, but use a smaller amount than the recipe calls for. When you’re snacking, keep this visual cue in mind: One serving of cheese is the size of two small dice.

More: Eat the Canyon Ranch Way When Dining Out
 

Plating Matters

“When it comes to plates, bowls and other dishes, we try to look for containers that make you feel visually satisfied too,” Majchrzak says. For example, if you order soft-serve ice cream in our dining room, it will arrive at your table in a small martini glass. Our modest serving size, 2.5 ounces, looks more generous in this glass than it would in a larger bowl. “Half of the ice cream is above the top of the glass, so it visually gives you a cue: Wow, this looks like a lot,” Majchrzak adds. “If it was buried inside a bigger-sized bowl, you would think, Gosh, this doesn’t look like very much.”

The Lesson: Opt for smaller dishes—salad plates instead of dinner plates and cereal bowls instead of pasta bowls, for example—to trick your brain into feeling satisfied with less food. Studies show that the size of the serving dish influences how much we eat, too, so try bringing food to the table in smaller containers.
 

As you consider which lessons you can borrow from us, remember these words from Scott Uehlein, Canyon Ranch’s corporate chef: “Food is meant to be enjoyed, food is meant to be shared and food is nourishing, but food which is cooked without passion and love is empty. Cook with love.

More: Canyon Ranch Recipes – Satisfying, Nourishing Cuisine

Reference(s) 
Journal of the American Medical Association
National Institutes of Health