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Small is big in the world of food -- at the moment "Does that oh-so-low calorie content bamboozle us? Encourage us to eat yet another package?"

Food is getting smaller every day, have you noticed? Not all food, of course. Those larger-than-life servings of burgers at fast-food restaurants and those all-you-can-eat buffets are still with us. And so are those "Hungry Man" pot pies and such.

Hulking hunks of food will always be part of our scene.

But there's also a -- dare I say it? -- a large amount of miniaturization going on in our culinary world right now, too. Whether it comes from a genuine concern about American obesity or just being trendy is anybody's guess.

Downsizing is in, though. Consider all those 100-calorie serving packets of snack food that have bowed in at a vending machine near you. Pop Secret Popcorn, Wheat Thins, even Lorna Doones, for heaven's sake -- all wrapped up in brightly colored plastic bags. (Which are sometimes impossible to open, but that's another story.)

Do these petite portion sizes of junk food really, as one General Mills dietitian put it, "help individuals balance their calorie intake with physical activity"?

"These small steps build success," she also said.

We wish. Because there's another side to this story. Does that oh-so-low calorie content bamboozle us? Encourage us to eat yet another package? "Oh, what the heck -- it's only 100 calories. I'll have another two -- or 10."

Now consider those bite-size bits of the food itself -- the infant-sized Ritz Crackers or Oreo cookies you can buy these days. Consider miniature marshmallows, for heaven's sake; consider cupcakes (instead of layer cakes). Not to mention those eye-dropper-sized globs of ice cream enclosed in chocolate coating.

Sure, they're cute; sure they're tempting. But again the question: Does their very teeniness lead us from the primrose path?

Think of them as rationalization in a box.

Interestingly, this miniaturization movement has extended to trendy restaurant menus. Experts are calling "modular menus" one of the biggest dining trends.

You know what we mean: Cutting-edge menus are often divided into "small plates" and "big plates." Sometimes the latter term refers to first courses or appetizers, and innovative chefs love them because it gives them a chance to be creative while controlling food costs.

No question that these "small plates" are often the most interesting things to eat. You can order "sampler plates" and pretty bento boxes, too.

This is probably an outgrowth of the "grazing" syndrome that once was so popular. Or maybe a modification of the Spanish tapas custom. Spain is very caliente at the present time.

Whatever. The whole thing is about choosing a little of this and a little to soothe the not-so-little hunger pangs. Challenging and adventurous and -- sometimes -- great.

But there are caveats for this restaurant trend, too. Those portions may be small, but don't expect eating this way to be less expensive. It often costs more in the end, as you will note when they bring you the check. (The check will definitely not be miniaturized.)

And it doesn't necessarily save on calories, either. "Small" is not a synonym for "skinny," it is my duty to report.

So sad, so true.


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