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Healthy Alternatives: Mongo's Bowl

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Mongo's Mongolian Fire Pit (11200 Broadway Street, Ste 400, Pearland) is one of our favorite dining establishments in the relatively new outdoor mall that is known as the Pearland Town Center, despite its location on the outskirts of town. Though there isn't anything particularly original about Mongo's, it executes the Mongolian grill concept well. It keeps the ingredients well stocked, and there are enough flavor combinations to keep one from getting bored.

Although you could easily make a several-thousand-calorie monstrosity loaded with beef, nuts, eggs and sugar-laden sauces (sounds good, we know), we decided to take this opportunity to see if we could create a bowl that was healthy, yet not boring to eat. Many of the commenters on past entries have noted that the most important parts of healthy living are portion control and exercise, which is an undeniable fact. However, we're trying to make something a little less fattening so we can slightly increase our portions, because as good as half of a cheeseburger may taste, it won't always fill you up. Plus we're big vegetable advocates. So we'll keep trying to create a good compromise between eating less and eating better, while still getting to the gym or park or at least the nearest Tae-Bo video.

Back to our bowl. Mongo's provides customers with different bowls for different ingredients, which immediately helps the consumer with portioning out a meal more appropriately. For example, the vegetable bowl is the biggest, the protein is much smaller, and the sauce bowl holds only a few tablespoons. While they likely to do this to cut down on food costs (veggies are generally cheaper than meat), it still works out to our waist's advantage. We filled our veggie bowl with peppers, spinach, onions, carrots, broccoli, squash, zucchini, a bit of corn and mushrooms. There are also carrots, tofu, oranges and tons of nuts, and the choices of protein are plentiful and include beef, chicken, shrimp, tilapia, pepperoni, scallops, pork and more. We were in a seafood state of mind, so we filled the smaller bowl with shrimp, scallops and tilapia. So far, so good.

Next came the sauces. This is where we knew we had to proceed we caution. While the Thai coconut curry sounded delicious, it likely contained fatty coconut milk and lots of sugar. We asked a kitchen employee what they would recommend and were directed to the soy chili garlic. We only filled the small bowl halfway and added some dry spices to increase the flavor. There are probably 20 or so spice flavors which increase the taste while maintaining a low caloric intake. We went with a bit of salt and pepper, fresh ginger, lots of fresh garlic, and fresh chiles. After selecting brown rice and pad thai noodles as our grain and neglecting to add oil, we sat and awaited our bowl.

After the waiter brought out our steaming bowl, we happily dug in. Success! The vegetables were crisp and flavorful, the seafood added a delicious boost of protein, and even the brown rice was good when mixed in with all the other tasty goodies.

Places that allow you to choose your own ingredients generally offer a relatively healthy alternative to home cooking. For best results, be up front with your server and enlist help from staff to make sure that extra sugar and oil isn't being added in unexpected places. It's always a good idea to package up half in advance and save the rest for lunch the next day, especially when the portions are huge like at Mongo's. A few tweaks here and there and you'll be beach body-ready in no time.

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