First-degree mischief

It’s so hard to be good.

French fries are delicious. So is duck confit, and a fluffy croissant from your favorite bakery. Macaroni and cheese should be its own food group. Mashed potatoes? More, please. Pass the butter.

Moderation is a popular go-to personal theme in the new year. I’ve sampled a few quotes about moderation; here are my favorites:

“Moderation is a virtue only in those who are thought to have an alternative.” —Henry Kissinger

“Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” —Oscar Wilde

As you can see, I embrace the bacon-vector of the moderation graph. But I can say this: We have to take better care of ourselves. Every one of us is getting older — even the younger people. Kentucky just moved from No. 7 to No. 5 “Fattest States in the Union” in 2011. Indiana went from 17th to 15th.

This year, let’s charge ourselves with finding healthful alternatives (and the restaurants that offer them) when dining out. I know it’s tempting, when allocating money, to splurge on ultra-luxe high-fat ingredients and comfort food. But can we agree we’d all be well served to cultivate a jones for splurging toward the leaner end of the menu? Can we do it? Challenge yourself.

Order a salad and explore new dressings. I understand; green goddess and thousand island are my favorites, too. Try ginger-soy. Try cilantro-lime vinaigrette. You will definitely be surprised. Beware cheese, croutons and nuts. Save these for special dinners only.

Eschew the bread that is served as a matter of course (I’d rather chew it than eschew it, but there you go). I know bread’s not easy to give up; bread on the table is the holy relic of food culture. Can we skip it every other time? I think we can.

Eat fish! Learn to enjoy it. Grilled, perfectly raw in sushi … even sautéed at first if you have to. Just make an effort to enjoy fish and seafood. Most of it is way lower in fat than beef and pork, and the nutritional value is through the roof.

Poultry dishes and their complementary sides are often deceptively high in fat and sodium. Biscuits, dumplings, green beans cooked in pork fat, sour cream cornbread, my beloved mac and cheese … let’s try to eat these less than once a month.

Potatoes. You love ’em, I love ’em. Boiled parsley potatoes are better than tater tots (calorie-wise). Let’s save the tots for twice a year; if we hold it to that, we can get chili and cheese on them. If sweet potatoes are an option, choose those — they have far more fiber and Vitamin C than white potatoes.

Or vow to make grains your starch. Order wheat berry, quinoa, barley, whole-wheat pasta. If they don’t have these at your favorite restaurant, mention it in an email to management. Include a lot of stroking about how much you love eating there — this won’t be hard, you do! — but ask for what you want.

Pizza. I get it. Order it with mushrooms, spinach, peppers and onions. “Forget” to order the pepperoni and the garlic butter dipping sauce. Sneak in a thin crust here and there. Order “party-cut” (squares) instead of triangular slices (this alone could save you several pounds a year).

Chicken wings — naked, not breaded. Hot sauce rather than blue cheese. Don’t leave any celery on the plate. You’ll burn more calories chewing it than you gained eating it. And celery offers vitamins, too: A, C, K and B-Complex.

Eat fruit at breakfast. Bananas, nectarines, grapefruit — not orange juice with tons of high fructose corn syrup. Blueberries, pomegranate, raspberries, lo-carb yogurt. I know: Sometimes you just want an omelet. Sometimes I do, too, and that’s OK. Just choose the other option at least 33 percent of the time.

Is it a nuisance to eat more healthfully? A little bit, yeah. Is it worth 10 more years of your life? These are easy tips to follow. You don’t need to drink an asparagus shake every morning — just make better choices when dining out.

Here, perhaps, is the balance between fun and moderation we should all be striving for: “Let not turn fun to mischief.” —Proverb

Ruining your health is mischief in the first degree. Eat to be healthier in 2012.

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro and Café Lou Lou. She now works for her alma mater, Sullivan University, as sous chef of Juleps Catering.