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Diet therapy

Garnishes galore and all those “little extras” on the side

Is garnishing and meal accompaniments getting out of fish-tacoshand?

Have you noticed when eating out how many desserts, soups, main meals and snacks arrive with extras?

This is fine if defined on the menu and most would count themselves lucky if the meal looks bigger as a result.

However if your taco arrives smothered in unexpected cheese obviously squeezed from a tube, mustard, aioli, tomato sauce or sour cream the extra fat, salt, sugar and calories can soon add up over the course of a day. Especially if travelling when all meals are eaten out. Also these “add ons” could endanger people with egg, dairy or wheat allergies so it is a topic worth thinking about.

What constitutes “a garnish”?

A garnish is defined by wiki as “an item or substance used as a decoration or embellishment accompanying a prepared food, dish or drink. It may give added or contrasting flavour, can augment the visual impact of the plate or provide a flavour impact”

So on the bright side a garnish may make food more appealing, colourful, interesting and edible.

How do garnishes stack up nutritionally?

Generally those based on fruit or vegetables are pretty healthy. So things such as edible flowers, fresh herbs, lemon slices, salsa’s, guacamole, salad or fresh fruit are all fine to eat when served as a decoration.

Likewise those with vinegar added such as pickled vegetables, gherkins, olives, pickled onions, mint sauce and vinaigrettes so long as these are kept to a minimum as these foods can also become a major source of salt.

The calorie, salt, sugar and fat loads of some condiments are interesting to compare see Table 1


Food Energy Fat Sodium   Food Energy Fat Sodium
2 Tbsp servings* kcals/kJ g mg   2 Tbsp*  kcals/kJ g mg
Tomato sauce 109/457 0.1 615 Salsa 50/210 0.2 388
Sour cream 220/921 22 368 Tzatziki 72/305 5.1 43
Mayonaise 323/1560 27.6 607 French dressing 235/987 16 734
Butter 729/3052 82 546 Margarine 504/2110 57 330
Gravy 125/525 8.5 470 Mint Sauce 92/388 0 690
Sour cream dip 274/1150 27 281 Guacamole 254/1067 26 17
Processed cheese 337/1414 28 1140 Hummus 140/588 6.2 300
Cream 372/1560 40 24.8 Yoghurt 40/170 0.35 48
Mustard 96/403 3.1 1420 Parsley 37/157 0.5 33

Ref Foodworks 2013   *Serving size: 2 Tbsp (i.e 2 tablespoons)

Practical tips for healthy garnishing

If you are serving meals to others there are lots of ways that you can garnish food without adding excessive calories.

  • Serve gravy, hollandaise sauce, dressings separately in a jug on the side.
  • Put condiments such as salsa, mustards, relishes, onion jams etc into small bowls beside the food rather than on it.
  • Use fresh herbs such as parsley, coriander, mint, basil in bunches to decorate plates rather than sprinkling it all over food
  • Slices or pieces of lemon, limes and edible flowers look good arranged around food rather than on them.
  • If wanting to help people to control their weight think to yourself “does this garnish offer fat or fibre”? E.g. Tzatziki offers the fibre of herbs and cucumber compared to sour cream which is mostly just offering the fat.
  • In the same way if making gravies base these on reductions of vegetables such as onion, mushrooms or tomato rather than on meat drippings.
  • Avoid plating up your guests food instead arrange foods so that they can serve themselves. This can also reduce plate waste.
  • When choosing meals at a restaurant ask for sauces and dressings to be placed on the side.
  • If ordering takeaway meals check first to see what sauces come with the food and where possible order portion packs of dressings etc rather than having these squirted in bulk over your food by others.
  • Also mind the toppings added to cakes and muffins.

If your work involves travelling a lot and you are finding that many of your meals are being eaten on the run or as takeaway food items then contact us for an appointment to discuss your needs and healthier food choices for a fitter way of life.

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »


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