Nanako Ogino sniffs around any uneaten food on the plates at the staff restaurant of Tanita Corp.

She's not hungry and desperately scavenging for leftovers. She is, in fact, a 35-year-old registered nutritionist who works there, and the enjoyment of food and healthy eating is always on her mind.

As well as trying to work out why food has been neglected, she listens to the staff who eat at the canteen and jots down her findings in a log book. “We are getting less leftovers now after changing the ingredients and seasonings based on this information,” she says.

This week’s set menu consists of barbecued chicken, sauteed daikon radish and tuna, spinach seasoned with “nori” (dried laver) sauce, miso soup with "fu," a Japanese food made from wheat gluten, eggplant and green onion and rice. And the crucial cooking pointers are?

Just by removing the skin from the chicken, she says the calories fall by 80 kcal. Also the chicken is grilled in an oven toaster and no oil is used. A key to reduce salt content is the use of spices. Chili pepper, oregano and nutmeg will be used. The sourness of lemon juice is also key.

The side dish of sauteed daikon radish and tuna should have a crunchy texture. Don't make it mushy by overcooking. You may feel like adding a generous amount of flavorful tuna, but it is better to stick to the recipe by weighing it.

“Measuring is essential to reduce the calories,” Ogino says. The recipe books introducing lunches at Tanita list precise amounts such as “10 grams of fried fish cake” and “2 grams of dried seaweed” for two persons.

Some staff members who have been eating at the canteen told her that they had lost weight. An employee whose jawline was almost lost in fat saw it emerge to give his face a sharper edge.

“I lost five kilograms in six months myself when I started working here,” says Ogino with a smile. By eating out, one can easily consume 700 to 1,000 kcal per meal. But Tanita serves 500-kcal meals. The difference is not something to be taken lightly.

“When people’s eating habits change, their awareness seems to change also and they start to walk up the stairs when commuting, for instance. Although it may sound typical, I guess the keys to staying healthy are the small-step efforts in the daily meals and exercise,” says Ogino. Both serve two.

INGREDIENTS

For barbecued chicken:

2 pieces (100 grams each) chicken without skin

Marinade (1 tsp ketchup, 1/2 Tbsp red wine, 1/3 tsp soy sauce, 2/3 tsp Worcester sauce, 1/2 tsp lemon juice, some chili pepper, garlic, oregano and nutmeg)

1/2 cucumber

1/2 celery stalk

30 grams onion

10 grams carrot

Seasoning (1 tsp soy sauce, 1/2 tsp each of vinegar and oil)

For sauteed daikon:

5-cm daikon radish

40 grams tuna can (“mizuni,” boiled in water type)

1/2 sesame oil

Bit of salt and pepper

2/3 tsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp sake

2 "shiso" leaves

METHOD

To cook chicken, immerse in marinade for 30 minutes. Grill on parchment paper in oven toaster for 10 to 15 minutes.

Slice cucumber in rounds. Slice celery thinly in crescent shape. Finely cut carrot in strips. Thinly slice onion. Mix vegetables in seasoning and leave for about 20 minutes.

Serve chicken on plate with the vegetables on the side.

To make radish dish, cut radish into 2-mm-thick rectangles. Cut shiso leaves into fine strips.

Heat sesame oil in frying pan and sautee radish. Add salt and pepper, then tuna and cook further. Season with soy sauce and sake. Add shiso and cook.

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From The Asahi Shimbun's Watashi no Ryori column