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A Nutrition-Wise Look at the Inaugural Luncheon

Should a once-(or maybe twice)-in-a-lifetime meal such as Tuesday's inaugural luncheon be held to high nutritional standards? Or does a president's swearing-in warrant a bit of indulgence?

One nutrition writer tallies the feast's calorie count at 3,048 and notes that the spread contains 142 grams of fat.

I talked with Kathy Valentine, CEO of Urban Design, the Arlington catering firm that's preparing the luncheon (as it has for several other inaugurations). Valentine told me her company hadn't calculated the meal's caloric content, but that the menu seemed reasonable to her, particularly as the three-course meal is being served on plates of a "nice size" -- meaning modest -- that helps keep portion sizes in check. So, for instance, while the seafood stew has a bit of butter and cream, the amount each guest is served has very little of those high-fat ingredients. "I wouldn't feel guilty eating it," Valentine says.

Valentine notes that, while the specifications her company had to meet in designing the menu mandated that it be reminiscent of the Lincoln era, the catering company always tries to keep health in mind. Because clients increasingly demand healthful offerings, she says, "We're always looking to be more health conscious, using lean produce, less starch and more local, fresh vegetables."

The calorie count is indeed high -- at least half again what most of us should consume in a day. Otherwise, you can see how the planners of this menu tried to include healthy ingredients: The stew features lobster, scallops and black cod (albeit under a blanket of puff pastry, which is meant to keep the mix warm). It's hard to argue with the array of winter vegetables -- asparagus, carrots, brussels sprouts and wax beans, which are prepared with a bit of butter and heart-healthy olive oil. There's a Bing cherry chutney to go with the roast pheasant and duck. A sweet potato dish has only a bit of butter and molasses for sweetening; both of those seem like worthwhile trade-offs for the nutrition-packed potatoes. And the cinnamon-apple sponge cake dessert. ... well, at least it's a fruit-based concoction, though the brioche-and-butter-filled bread topping seems, well, over the top.

Surely not a meal I'd want to eat every day. But Tuesday is far from an every-day day.

In any case, should you have a bone to pick regarding the meal, don't blame the new president. Valentine says the menu was planned in September and would have been the same whichever candidate won.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  January 19, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness  
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You mention that the calorie total is about 1/2 of what Americans should consume in a day. That would make the daily total over 6,000 calories per day. I believe this is incorrect.

Daily calorie intake should range between 2000 (women) to 2500 (men). No where did I find a figure even approaching your calculation - even at the 1/2 per day intake.

If you accept the 2000-2500 range, the one meal actually means you have eaten enough for the entire day.

But isn't asking the people who are preparing the feast a little like asking the fox how it will guard the chickens?

Posted by: DejaVue | January 19, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Since when are asparagus and wax beans winter vegetables? I'd not only like to see the menu be healthy, I'd like to see it be more local and seasonal, in keeping with green sensibilities.

Posted by: kleindog | January 19, 2009 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Heads up! Any of you caters ever hear of soy, safflower, and peanut products?
And what about whole grains, fresh fruits in season, nuts in season, nut butters, natural fruits. Fruits don't have to be in a pie! For crying out laugh!
Move your menu planning in the green zone.
We don't need another fat generation before it learns how to defend itself.
Let's start at the gleen in the eye stage.
That would be so nice for our future darlings. And that goes for our present sugar lumps, too.

our present sugar lumps, as well.

Posted by: bond2millonpost | January 19, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

YIKES! Thanks, DejaVue, for pointing that out. It was a typo: the original line said that that was "half AGAIN what most of us should eat in a day." I've fixed it in the blog; thanks again for spotting the error!

Posted by: Jennifer LaRue Huget | January 19, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse


Barack Obama is the greatest liar in history (no wonder he is an excellent lawyer!) During his campaign, he told lots of hope in future for America if he was elected, but now he warns Americans of oncoming darker economy and not to put too much hope in his promises. He promises a big plan to reduce budget deficit but his inauguration ceremony this January will be the most costly in history (50 millions) while the nation is in deep depression, as well as his presidential campaign (600 millions), which was far more than his opponent John McCain's. He swears to clean up Washington DC, but he failed to first clean up his homestate Illinois, one of the most corrupt state with the scandal of Governor Rod Blagojevich, who greatly helped Obama to win his state senate seat in 1996, 1998, and 2002. And his favorite slogan is "Yes, we CAN", yet he himself CANNOT quit smoking at all !!!

Posted by: TIMNGUYEN1 | January 19, 2009 10:28 PM | Report abuse

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