By Kevin Kolodziejski
Even though I’m soon to be 63 and a lacto-ovo vegetarian since 18, I’m still a two-sandwich guy. A single sandwich, whether it’s part of a meal or as a snack, just doesn’t cut it for me.
But I’m not nearly as muscular as I was at 33, 43, or even (sad to say, but I need to be honest here) 53. So to stay lean enough to climb relatively well for my age and save a shred of my cycling dignity (since the mediocre-at-best flatland power I once possessed seems to have gone AWOL after my last crash), I don’t consume nearly as many calories as years ago.
But I still have the same appetite I had at 18, it seems, so I’m always looking for ways to eat my fill while cutting calories.
I did the former but not the latter in college. In fact, during the 15-minute break the professor would give us in the middle of a three-hour, 8:00 a.m. class during the spring semester of my junior year, I did just about the opposite. Which was just about as crazy as this college kid — a strait-laced abstainer and Dean’s List regular — got.
Oh, Those Crazy College Kids . . . and Their Breakfasts
So, yes, during that same semester I declined an inebriated buddy’s 3:00 a.m. midweek invitation to breakfast at a little diner he was convinced served the best Canadian bacon. It wasn’t because I was an LOV, though; I could’ve ordered pancakes. Or that an 8:00 a.m. class loomed in five hours. It was a matter of, as they say in the realty business, “location, location, location.”
This greasy spoon was just past the border, though not the one dividing PA and Jersey about 45 minutes away. Rather the one separating NY and Canada and at least a six-hour drive. But where else, my buddy argued in drunken delusion, would you expect to find the best Canadian bacon? (He did, by the way, find a guy willing to go, and they triumphantly returned to campus with a slice of the stuff wrapped in a napkin as proof of their sojourn — albeit two days later.)
So what was my version of the Crazy College Kid breakfast? I’d forsake the one served at the dining hall on the days of that 8:00 a.m. class for a run of four or five miles. Which meant I’d race back to my dorm during the class break and make two calorie-dense peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that I washed down with about 16 ounces of skim milk.
Hardly college-kid crazy, I know. But the use here of “calorie-dense” is hardly hyperbole.
An 1850-Calorie Breakfast . . . yet No Bacon
The whole-wheat bread I bought at the time included extra wheat bran and was so thickly cut that a single slice contained 140 calories. The peanut butter contained 190 calories per the label’s suggested two-tablespoon serving, but I ignored the label, used at least double — and probably quadrupled the strawberry-jelly jar suggestion. To provide a bit of context, my belated breakfast provided about as many calories as a petite, middle-aged, moderately active female requires over the course of a day.
All told, a bit shy of 1850 calories.
Why I’m not shy to tell you this is also partially why this column exists. To announce that I’m back to eating two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches again — this time, as an after-supper snack. As unbelievable as that may seem for an old cyclist who not only loves climbing but also that he still needs a belt to wear 32-inch-waist pants comfortably.
Two of these new sandwiches though are a bit shy of 300 calories.
Who Doesn’t Crave Comfort Food?
While I clearly get a kick out of cutting cals, I write about it with you in mind. Because whether it’s mac and cheese, grilled cheese with tomato soup, mashed potatoes with butter and gravy, meatloaf, lasagna, chicken pot pie, or (god forbid) Rocky Road ice cream, there’s a high-calorie comfort food from your past, I’m sure, that you often crave. Yet you rarely eat it now because doing so would add to your waistline and subtract from your cycling.
With that in mind, consider the following recipe. If you’ve been craving PB&J and looking for ways to cut the calories — which wise cyclists do, especially in the winter — give it a try. If not, apply the idea to recreate a comfort you do crave, so that it’s not as calorie dense.
If you’re worried the lack of calories will mean a sacrifice in taste, keep this in mind. When I decided to write about this radically reduced-caloric version of the PB&J sandwich, I held a taste test. All four involved gave my creation two thumbs up.
Before I divulge the recipe, however, you should be aware of something else two of the four taste testers shared. That despite the good taste and staggering caloric savings, they’d probably never make this for themselves simply because some prep time is needed.
And I thought the big buzzkill would be the cost.
There’s Always a Caveat, of Course
If you make the replacement peanut butter as I do, use four slices of ROYO’s 30 Calorie Low Carb Artisan Bread, three tablespoons of Smucker’s Sugar Free Peach Preserves, and buy the other items where I buy them in bulk, the cost of two sandwiches comes to $3.85.
The Low-Cal Substitute for Peanut Butter
Now I won’t insult your intelligence and detail how to make an entire PB&J sandwich, but I will explain how to make the replacement peanut butter so it tastes close to the real McCoy.
To make enough for two sandwiches, mix 4 tablespoons of PB2 Original Powdered Peanut Butter, 3 tablespoons of erythritol, 2 tablespoons of Walden Farms Calorie Free Whipped Peanut Spread, and a sprinkling of stevia. You may prefer to use 1 tablespoon more of the Walden Farms product, but here’s a word to the wise: Don’t ever use it solely to replace peanut butter.
The stuff’s lethal, only gets two stars at Vitacost.com (where I usually buy all the aforementioned ingredients, except the bread and preserves), and is overrated at that. But if you use 2 or 3 tablespoons of water to reconstitute the Original PB2 Powdered Peanut Butter as the label suggests, you sacrifice both taste and mouth feel.
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.