02/07/2013 08:29 am ET Updated Apr 09, 2013

My MyPlate Experiment, Day Three: Struggling With Restaurants And "Empty Calories"

I tried incorporating two new normal-life things into my MyPlate Experiment on Wednesday: restaurants and cooking for a group. They each presented minor challenges, but not as many as I might have suspected.

I grabbed a takeout lunch from Wichcraft, a sandwich shop across the street from the HuffPost offices, that has the advantage, for my purposes, of posting calorie counts for all its menu items. (That allowed me to enter the serving sizes I suspected on the USDA's SuperTracker app and have some gauge of how accurate my guess had been.) Cobbling together a meal that checked a sufficient number of Dietary Guideline boxes was relatively straightforward, though resisting the amazing cookie sandwiches at the checkout counter was less so.

And cooking for my roommates went even better. They both enjoyed the uncharacteristically spartan meal I prepared them, and appreciated enough to offer to wash up afterwards.

Yet I also wanted to add a dash of festivity to the dinner, and I didn't think the nutmeg I whimsically grated into the (saltless, butterless) mashed sweet potatoes counted. Alcohol was more or less verboten, so I thought a fruit-based dessert would do the trick. I remembered a relatively healthy recipe for roast bananas that would let me fulfill my Fruits requirement for the day. My roommate offered to make homemade whipped cream, which I figured would finish off my Dairy requirement for the day as well.

Dessert was divine -- the best food I've eaten all week. But when I added it to my SuperTracker, I discovered, to my dismay, that the USDA does not count whipped cream as a dairy. Plus, the saturated fat in it, combined with the sprinkle of brown sugar I put on the bananas, put me over my daily limit in the mysterious category known as "empty calories."

The USDA defines this as calories from solid fat, added sugar and alcohol, but many different foods seem to contain some modicum of empty calories. My morning toast, for example, packs in 25. And I only get a measly 362 a day! For that reason, even though I had a relatively healthy Wednesday, and ate less than my daily limit of calories, I went over in that category. It seems a little stringent... does the USDA really think I would have been better off eating a bowl of plain pasta -- and thereby met my "Grains" requirement -- than a (less caloric) dollop of whipped cream? Maybe, but I'm not convinced I agree. It seems to me that it's important to meet your daily nutritional requirements without eating too much food -- but that as long as you do that, how you allocate your "excess" calories should be up to you.

Click through below to find out how the MyPlate Experiment has been going so far:

A Week Of MyPlate