Snacking is the new American way of eating and that's not all bad.

As a child, I was taught–or, rather, my mother was taught to teach me–that snacking between meals was bad. Except for the classic after school cookies and milk, we were supposed to eat at mealtimes: a substantial, sit down breakfast, a brown bag lunch and a meat-and-three dinner seated at the table with the rest of the family, ideally leaving a clean plate each time.

However, most nutritionists agree that six small meals a day–snacks–are better for you than three big ones, especially when the largest one comes at the end of the day.

Our obesity epidemic seems to indicate that Americans have put both rules in practice–we snack all day AND eat three big meals. Not to mention cleaning all plates in sight.

At least, more restaurants are encouraging us to eat a little less at one meal by offering a tapas menu, a list of small but substantial dishes to be ordered as your appetite and common sense dictate. Start with a few, order a couple more and call it a meal or order a bunch to share with friends. In any case, the portions are small that plate-cleaning is seldom an issue.

Tapas were originally a Spanish idea, and local Iberian-inspired restaurants like Finca and Cafe Madrid serve traditional tapas, like the quiche-like tortilla espanola. But more restaurants are serving small plates that are just that. You can hardly call fried chicken and waffle Spanish, 

but that's on the small plates list at the new Avenues Proper and Publick House, along with housemade fish sticks,

Welsh rarebit, elk carpaccio and pickled eggs. 

The small plates are served in both the full restaurant and the bar, with a list of wines, cocktails and–as of last night–the Proper's own house-brewed beer.

An Avenues neighbor a few streets away, Cucina Deli also recently introduced a tapas menu, to complement the breakfast, sandwich, salad and dinner menus and to-go dishes. Sitting on Cucina's patio on a perfect early summer evening weather, sipping a beer or wine and noshing on small plates is a Salt Lake delight. The street is quiet and leafy, the atmosphere-indoors and out-is charming in a relaxed homey way and the tapas encourage lingering.

 

I loved the ricotta dumplings, a dish served at Copper Onion with preserved lemon. At Cucina, they come in a Spanish-style red pepper sauce. Pork and beef sliders are juicy and bright with flavor, potato cakes are a brilliant addition and as addictive as spuds tend to be. Duck is smoked in-house and so are meatballs, served in a marinara sauce.

Your snack can be as simple as a cheese plate or a dish of smoked and spiced almonds, but it's also easy to make a meal from the tiny tastes. And there's something more satisfying about dining on a variety of intense flavors than a whole plate of one thing.