Culinary Waves: Getting proficient in portion control

Dec 22, 2020 by Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

The past 30 years has seen an increase in portion sizes, which is one of the main causes of obesity. If the chef has portion distortion when it comes to plating, then guests and crew will eat too much and gain weight. 

If the principal asks how many calories are in the dessert, culinary math is in order to know how many calories are in our portion distortions. I’ve been asked this question before, as I know most chefs have.

We use math when provisioning and budgeting for the yacht, but when making that ganache for the birthday cake or that creme brulee, have we used our math to count calories lately?  Yachting is the land of luxury, fine food and fancy destinations, but consistently serving the principal and guests foods high in calories is not doing them any service. Our goal as chefs is not have the principal or his guests gain weight every time they visit the yacht. Our goal is to help them achieve a healthy lifestyle onboard and enjoy themselves without the pounds clinging when they go home. 

These days, food planning is typically all about vegan cuisine, green cuisine, gluten-free, plant-based, paleo, but we do still get guests onboard who want that standing rib roast and cream-laden desserts. Sometimes those occasions can’t be helped, but if the principal is like most, he needs healthy cuisine. (Once they have reached the stage in their life where they can afford a yacht, they have often done much damage to their bodies. Calorie counting and diets are in order.) 

So how do we count calories? Begin by calculating the energy balance, which is energy input and energy output.

We input energy when we eat. Food offers calories that we consume. We get different amounts of energy (calories) from different foods. Protein and carbohydrates each provide 4 calories per gram; fat offers 9 calories per gram. Figure out energy input by simply adding up what is eaten in a day. 

An easy way to do this is with one of the popular calorie counting apps. I have found Nutritionix to be quite thorough, but chefs must find the right one that offers everything they need to help with meal planning. (Be sure to also measure any macronutrients such as salt as its effects can lead to weight gain in water weight.) To get an accurate picture of how many calories are consumed in a day, it is best to do this for a whole week.

Harvard University recommends multiplying a person’s weight by 15, which is roughly the number of calories per pound of body weight needed to maintain weight for those of us who are “moderately active”. So, someone who weighs 155 pounds needs about 2,325 calories a day to maintain their current weight. To lose weight, consume fewer calories.

Energy output is simply burning calories. Break down a recipe to its ingredients and find the number of calories per ingredient based on servings. 

To lose 1 pound a week, decrease daily calories by 500. It’s common for women to eat 1,200 a day to lose weight and men about 1,800 a day to lose weight. Remember to measure the portions. I use a food scale and try to keep protein portions to 3 ounces or less.

Chef Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments are welcome below.

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About Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years.

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