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Omnivore - One bag of Cheetos equals three big salads at Panera

A flamin' hot gym snack

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So, I was at the Kroger the other day, picking up a few things (including 15 protein bars) before I hit the gym. Uh-oh. Flamin' Hot Cheetos on sale for $1.70. I admit it. I love the things, but it's been several years since I bought any.

The rationale of impulse took over. "I'll eat some of these before the gym, instead of a protein bar," I thought (not bothering to observe that was like substituting chocolate mousse for tofu). I ripped open the bag on my way to the car and started eating. If Ronald McDonald's lips were orange, he'd look like me as I walked in the gym. A friend noticed and laughed as I entered the locker room. I wiped my lips and hands on my white gym towel. Ronald just removed his makeup.

About 90 minutes later, I was back in my car. I grabbed the bag. By the time I was home, it was empty. I felt kinda queasy. I remembered that Flamin' Hot Cheetos made the news a year or two ago because they sent children to hospital emergency rooms - because their stomachs burned and their parents were stupid.

I took the bag inside, and looked at the nutrition label for kicks. I had, in the course of a few hours, consumed 1600 calories. A snack of 1600 calories! I decided not to eat dinner. I felt bloated and still queasy. I shook the empty bag to make sure no more were inside. I woke up in the middle of the night. I was starving. I ate two protein bars.

I vowed to eat light the next day.

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So, I ate hunk of low-fat cheese and a Fuji apple for lunch. Later, I went to Panera for dinner. I decided to try the Mediterranean Shrimp Couscous Salad above, about $10. It is new, or at least new to the Ansley store. The full contents: "baby spinach and romaine lettuce tossed with our Meyer lemon balsamic vinaigrette and signature couscous blend, then topped with shrimp, feta, kalamata olives and roasted tomatoes."

It was actually good. The shrimp, as most shrimp are, was mainly texture and little flavor, but cooked just right. All other ingredients were as well prepared and, of course, the more desirable they were - like the olives - the fewer they were. The one unlikable ingredient was the dressing. It sounds tart, but it was way too sweet. I used half the portion offered. Next time, I'll look for an alternative.

My meal's total calorie content was 540: the salad, 360; the dressing, 60; and a hunk of a baguette, 150. Skip the latter and that's a really reasonable, good-tasting meal.

My experience brought to mind the idiotic claim of big-hearted folks like Sean Hannity that widespread obesity among the poor proves that hunger in America is overstated. Well, for $1.70, I got about a day's worth of empty calories that left me hungry a few hours later. A second bag of Cheetos would certainly kill the rest of my hunger, bringing my zillion-calorie food costs to $3.40. Figure it out.





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