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Lenten fish fries adding healthier options | TribLIVE.com
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Lenten fish fries adding healthier options

Tribune-Review
| Tuesday, March 8, 2016 9:00 p.m
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James Knox | Tribune-Review
A plate of baked fish available at the St. Maria Goretti School fish fry Friday night Feb. 26, 2016 in Bloomfield.
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James Knox | Tribune-Review
Phyllis Scanga (left) of Bloomfield and Cece Candalor of the North Side have a chat while attending the St. Maria Goretti School fish fry Friday night Feb. 26, 2016 in Bloomfield.
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Rebecca Emanuele | for the Tribune-Review
Kellie Lynch, 17, of Greensburg, has literally grown into fulfilling volunteer duties, attending each St. Bruno Fish Fry since birth, as parents, John and Karen Lynch, have been heading the fish fry for 21 years.
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Rebecca Emanuele | for the Tribune-Review
(left) Volunteers, Stacy Wen, 16, and Patty Sliva, both of Greensburg, fill a guest order for a fried fish dinner during St. Bruno Parish Fish Fry, held Friday, March 4, 2016. Lenten dinners are offered each Friday throughout Lent at St. Bruno Parish, Greensburg, PA, offering healthy alternatives including baked salmon, orange roughy, Mahi and Tilapia on select dates.
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Rebecca Emanuele | for the Tribune-Review
A baked salmon dinner is offered as a healthier alternative to fried fish,
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Rebecca Emanuele | for the Tribune-Review
(left) John and Karen Lynch, of Greensburg, head the St. Bruno fish fry for their 21st year, serving close to 1,000 meals every Friday. The fish fry dinners are held throughout Lent offering healthy alternatives, baked salmon, orange roughy, Mahi, and Tilapia, on select dates, in the St. Bruno Parish Center, Greensburg, PA.
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Rebecca Emanuele | for the Tribune-Review
Volunteers, (left) Tracy Wilhelm, and Roberta Baker, both of Greensburg, flow through an efficient and organized assembly line picking up menu items, one served by Angelo Alesi of Greensburg, to quickly fulfill guest orders.
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Rebecca Emanuele | for the Tribune-Review
Volunteer, Rosalind Stack of Greensburg, delivers an assortment of dinners to guests.
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Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Bob Graf (left) and Shaun McNamara, both of North Huntingdon, review an order before it leaves the kitchen during the Lenten fish fry at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church hall in North Huntingdon on Friday, Mar. 4, 2016.
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Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Brothers (from left) Preston and Roman Montag, ages 7 and 5, of North Huntingdon, are served dinner during the Lenten fish fry at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church hall in North Huntingdon on Friday, Mar. 4, 2016.
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Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Jo Barton (left) of North Huntingdon, wraps a take-out order of zucchini for Shirley Marchitello of North Versailles during the Lenten fish fry at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church hall in North Huntingdon on Friday, Mar. 4, 2016.
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Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Diners waiting to be seated can review a menu listing some of the healthy options at the Lenten fish fry at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church hall in North Huntingdon on Friday, Mar. 4, 2016.
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Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Brothers (from left) Preston and Roman Montag, ages 7 and 5, of North Huntingdon, are served by Bob Kraf during the Lenten fish fry at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church hall in North Huntingdon on Friday, Mar. 4, 2016.
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Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Pecan crusted baked tilapia, fruit cup, hand-cut potato chips, and cole slaw are among the menu options at the Lenten fish fry at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church hall in North Huntingdon on Friday, Mar. 4, 2016.
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Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Pecan crusted baked tilapia, fruit cup, hand-cut potato chips, and cole slaw are among the menu options at the Lenten fish fry at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church hall in North Huntingdon on Friday, Mar. 4, 2016.
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Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Dave Garrity of North Huntingdon prepares portions of pecan-crusted baked tilapia during the Lenten fish fry at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church hall in North Huntingdon.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Pasta Fra Diavolo — penne pasta, shrimp sauteed in garlic and tomatoes, served with garlic bread and salad — is one of the lower-fat options offered at St. Bernard Church in Mount Lebanon.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Gary Rodgers of Dormant, makes cole slaw at the Friday Fish Fry at St. Bernard Church in Mount Lebanon, Friday, March 4, 2016.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Volunteers Dianne Brown, of Mount Lebanon (left) and Pina DiBattista, of Mount Lebanon make Pasta Fra Diavolo, penne pasta, shrimp sauteed in garlic and tomatoes, served with garlic bread and salad as a healthy alternative at the Friday Fish Fry at St. Bernard Church in Mount Lebanon, Friday, March 4, 2016.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Volunteers Tracy McGonigle and Bob Schilken, both of Mt. Lebanon, make fish tacos as a healthy alternative at the Friday Fish Fry at St. Bernard Church in Mt. Lebanon.
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Tribune-Review
Fish fry events kick off this week in Western Pennsylvania.
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James Knox | Tribune-Review
Ortenzia Magliocco cafeteria manager for St. Maria Goretti School and head cook for the school’s fish fry dishes out a serving of baked fish during the fundraiser Friday night Feb. 26, 2016 in Bloomfield.
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James Knox | Tribune-Review
Samuel J. Frizzi of Bloomfield takes his plate of baked fish from the food line at the St. Maria Goretti School fish fry fundraiser Friday night Feb. 26, 2016 in Bloomfield.

Lenten fish fry season is in full swing. You can tell by the long lines of hungry seafood enthusiasts on any given Friday at Catholic church halls and school cafeterias.

The featured fare at these popular seasonal fundraisers is worth waiting for. Main attractions typically include fried, battered or breaded fish sandwiches slathered with tartar sauce, potato pierogies cooked in a tasty butter sauce, and homemade cakes, pies and cookies graciously donated by the best bakers in the parish.

Delicious menu items, to be sure — but not always the best choices for those following a heart-healthy diet that links frequent consumption of fried and high-calorie foods to increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

The caloric difference can be substantial between a fried and a baked fish sandwich — about 20 extra calories per ounce for fried fish with breading, according to Laura Maydak, a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian and nutritionist for Giant Eagle Market District.

“That’s already an 80-calorie difference for a 4-ounce fish fillet,” she says, “and if we gobble an 8-ounce fillet, it’s an extra 160 calories — and that’s not taking into account the bread and the tartar sauce,” which can add 30 to 75 calories per tablespoon, depending on the brand used.

To food advocates such as Maydak who follow dietary guidelines from the American Dietetic Association — encouraging consumers to color their plates with a rainbow of foods to incorporate nutritional benefits — fish fries are “a very white meal.”

“There is some protein in fish, of course, but a typical meal with pierogies and french fries is pretty bland, adding calories without much benefit. Let’s have some fresh veggies earlier in the week, or earlier in the day on fish fry Friday,” she says.

On the bright side, Lent lasts only until Easter — March 27 this year — so any over-indulgence in high-calorie, high-fat foods is short-term. And, Maydak doesn’t advocate staying away from one of the favorite spring social events for many families.

“We always say everything in moderation, as long as the rest of the week you’re eating a calorie-controlled, balanced diet,” she says. “And a lot of fish fry menus are more healthful than in the past.”

In an effort to provide healthier alternatives, many organizers of local fish fries are offering more baked seafood as the catch of the day, in addition to lower-calorie side dishes such as broccoli, baked potatoes, stewed tomatoes and apple sauce in lieu of french fries, pierogies or haluski.

St. Maria Goretti School in Bloomfield is one of the places where fried fish shares the dinner menu with baked fish, shrimp, ditalini with peas and spaghetti with garlic and oil. Cook Ortenzia Magliocco, who has been working in the school cafeteria for 36 years, says that, surprisingly, when there’s a choice between french fries and green beans or broccoli, most opt for the green vegetable.

But when it comes down to fried or baked fish, more choose the fried variety “because that’s why it’s called a fish fry,” the cook says with a laugh.

At St. Bernard Church in Mt. Lebanon, the “Gourmet Fish Fry” features not only standard fried or baked fish and fried shrimp dinners, but also weekly specials such as crab cakes, shrimp sauteed in garlic and tomatoes served with salad, and pasta with garlic-sauteed spinach, tomatoes and pine nuts.

Volunteer Eric Eidemueller, who has helped organize the event for the past eight years along with a team of 30 to 50 volunteers, says as many as 1,100 parishioners and other guests turn out for the Lenten dinners each week, and that the specials frequently sell out.

“Our fried fish dinner is still our No. 1 seller, but this year we’ve sold more baked fish than in other years,” he says.

In Greensburg, John and Karen Lynch have organized the fish fry at St. Bruno Parish for 21 years and have incorporated changes in the menu that include a weekly baked special. Baked orange roughy is served every week, and alternating weekly specials feature baked salmon, tilapia and mahi-mahi and vegetable lasagna.

Karen says they serve 600 to 900 guests every week, and people are looking for alternatives to traditional fish dinners.

“We added green beans, and it’s amazing how popular they’ve become in the past few years,” she says. “We’ve toyed with the idea of offering rice and salad, and somebody’s pushing me to serve tuna noodle casserole, but I’m not that much into that idea.”

At St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in North Huntingdon, Julie McNamara and her co-workers, Lori and Randy Anselmino, are in charge of the weekly fish fry, assisted by a team of more than 80 volunteers who serve as many as 800 guests each Friday during Lent.

McNamara says their menu has been slightly modified to reflect healthier options.

“Last year, we gave up serving dinner rolls, which mostly ended up in the garbage, and we increased the amount of coleslaw because people want more of it,” she says. “This year, we added fruit cups as an a la carte item, and if that goes over well, we’ve talked about cutting up and serving fresh vegetables.”

Other menu items at the North Huntingdon fish fry include pecan-crusted tilapia, baked cod loin, crab cakes, shrimp, baked fish sandwich and zucchini planks, served with or without marinara.

“Of course, fried fish and butter-laden haluski still goes much better than coleslaw,” McNamara says.

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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