5 Ways to Cook Healthier with the Recipes You Already Have
Do you think that getting healthier requires a complete diet overhaul, special cookbooks or a bunch of new recipes for every meal?
Is not having them holding you back from even getting started?
Some weeks trying a new recipe can be just the thing to bring healthier fare to your family. Who doesn’t love discovering a new recipe that’s both healthy and a hit at the table?
But let’s be realistic, some weeks there isn’t time (or a desire) to search out something new that’s both healthy and palatable to the family!
Fortunately, there are easy ways to make the recipes you already have healthier without buying new cookbooks, searching for new recipes or putting yourself on a restrictive diet.
What if your favorite recipes could be..
- Lower in Calories?
- Lower in Saturated Fat?
- Higher in Fiber?
- Higher in Vitamins and Antioxidants?
Well, they can!
Here’s Five Ways to Make Your Favorite Recipes Healthier:
1) Omit the oil.
Let’s be really clear on this one: All types of cooking oil are virtually devoid of any nutrients.
In fact, all they have going for them are calories -- all of which come from fat. 120 calories per tablespoon to be precise.
Go check the nutrition labels on all the oils you have in your pantry or refrigerator and you will see for yourself.
Cutting empty calories is a great way to improve the health profile of your diet. Cutting out the oil is an easy way to cut calories and reduce fat.
So, what do you use instead? If the oil is used for sautéing onions or other vegetables, substitute water or (even tastier) vegetable broth instead. If the oil is used in baked goods like muffins, substitute unsweetened applesauce. Done.
In other types of recipes where you feel removing all the oil will adversely affect the taste, cut it in half and see how that goes. Some oils like toasted sesame oil are important to a recipe’s flavor profile, but they can usually still be cut back.
2) Move to whole grain.
Whether we are talking rice, pasta or bread, ditch the refined grains and go whole!
There is such a wonderful variety of whole grain pastas available now, which give you no reason to stick to white pasta. Try quinoa, brown rice, corn or whole wheat pasta and boost the nutrition of your favorite Italian pasta dish. You can also experiment with lentil or bean pastas or those made with artichoke flour.
Ditch the white rice and try brown rice, quinoa, millet or 100% buckwheat noodles with your favorite Asian or stir-fry recipe. And if you haven’t ditched the white bread yet, do it now. Look for ones made with sprouted whole grains or quinoa flour. There are even whole grain white breads on the market like those made by Dave’s Killer Bread and Whole Foods. My kids love these.
Moving to whole grain choices in packaged foods like crackers and cereal also make a difference, especially in the fiber department!
Stick with these changes for several weeks and if you go back to refined grains you may discover you no longer like them. (From my experience, I can tell you that there’s a very good chance this will happen!) And, boom, you’ve made a permanent upgrade to your grain life.
3) Double the vegetables.
Americans are notorious for not eating enough fruits and vegetables. But this doesn’t mean you have to ditch your favorite dishes completely. Try doubling the vegetables in your entrees while you scale back on another ingredient.
For instance, an easy one to try this with is a pasta dish. Cut back on the pasta and increase the vegetables. Your family may hardly notice, and you’ll likely be increasing the nutrients and fiber in the dish (bonus!) while decreasing the calories per serving.
I also recommend rounding up when measuring your vegetables for recipes. If the dish calls for 3 cups of cauliflower and you have 4, add them in. Remember that cooking rarely requires following the direction precisely, like baking does. Not leaving small amounts of leftovers will go a long way in preventing food waste. That lonely cup of cauliflower left all alone won’t meet a certain death in the back of your fridge.
If you do have a bunch of leftover veggies, my Rainbow Tofu Vegetable Stir Fry is a great way to use them up.
4) Offer a salad or veggie plate to start.
If you’re serving a favorite high calorie, less than completely healthy meal, try offering a salad or vegetable plate beforehand (not at the same time, this makes a big difference).
Hungry people will eat healthy food if it’s readily available. Having a salad ready to go can be a great way to painlessly encourage them to eat more vegetables before dinner even begins. This can be a simple green salad made from the ingredients you have on hand or a plate of cut up raw vegetables with a favorite salad dressing to dip them in.
This doesn’t mean you have to make a new salad every day. If you don’t put dressing on the salad it will last a few days.
Hearty greens like kale and cabbage are especially great to use in making salads that will last for days and days in the fridge. Check out my Anti-Cancer Massaged Kale Salad and Sriracha Red Cabbage Slaw for two examples of these types of salads.
A platter of cut up vegetables with hummus or a dip also does the trick. In my house, I’ve found vegetables and dip (like Green Chile-Black Bean Dip) are practically irresistible to the pre-dinner crowd. The kids often end up eating more vegetables than I might have served them to begin with!
5) Cut out the cheese.
Did you know that the single largest source of saturated fat in the American diet is not actually meat, but cheese? As a former vegetarian who knows what it’s like to rely too heavily on cheese, I know that it’s easy to overdo it.
But what I’ve found is that quite a few dishes I thought I’d never be able to eat again when I gave up cheese (much to the benefit of my weight and skin) actually taste really, really great without it!
A few examples...
Pizza. I am semi-famous at my local pizzeria for ordering my family’s favorite pie: mushrooms, onions, olives, eggplant, roasted peppers and spinach – with sauce, but no cheese. With that many toppings on the pie you really don’t miss the cheese and the flavors of the vegetables and olives are really able to stand out. Another thing I don’t miss? That heavy in the belly feeling you get when you’re done eating.
Mexican food. I skip the cheese (and sour cream) and add guacamole, which offers the creaminess with 1/10th of the saturated fat found in an equal amount of cheddar cheese.
Italian food. Instead of sprinkling on parmesan and layering in the ricotta, try the Brazil nut parmesan and tofu ricotta I use in my Easy Eggplant Parmesan Casserole and Tofu Ricotta Pasta Bake with Broccoli Rabe.
If all these options seem overwhelming, just choose one and give it a try!
As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of small changes, because these are the ones that lead to lasting results.
What way will you choose to make your favorite recipe healthier?