Making your favorite recipes healthier is easier than you may think. Here are nutritional tips and healthy cooking techniques to help you make your favorite recipes healthier and just as tasty.
USE THE FRESHEST INGREDIENTS POSSIBLE
- Fresh fruits and vegetables tend to have more ﬂavor than frozen and canned varieties.
- Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil has twice as much ﬂavor as a light or reﬁned olive oil.
- Fresh-grated dry cheeses like Parmesan and Asiago, have a more intense and richer ﬂavor than the pre-grated, dried varieties.
- Compared to dried, fresh herbs have stronger, and sometimes completely different, ﬂavors.
READ FOOD LABELS
Packaged and processed foods may contain high amounts of sodium, sugar, saturated, and trans fats, nitrates, and other unhealthy ingredients and preservatives. Labels let you choose foods higher in vitamins and minerals and help you determine if serving sizes are realistic in relation to the nutritional values listed.
HEALTHY COOKING TECHNIQUES
- Reduce cooking temperatures to low and medium-high heat to sauté and fry, allowing foods to cook using their own moisture.
- Use high quality fats as ﬂavorings, e.g. extra virgin olive oil, butter, etc. to enrich sauces, soups, broths, etc. at the end of cooking time.
- Searing foods lightly coated with flour to the surface of a pan, browns the flour to the pan’s surface where it then be deglazed using a small amount of broth, wine, etc. This give soup bases, sauces, stews, etc., the rich color of a roux without the use of fats, e.g. a butter cooked with flour.
- Use starch, typically flour or cornstarch and liquid slurries to thicken soups, sauces, gravies, etc., instead of using a fat and ﬂour roux.
- Use a vegetable roux. This is flour or any starch mixed with sautéed vegetables to which liquid is added to thicken sauces, soups, gravies, etc.
- Place a wire rack inside of a rimmed baking sheet and set aside. Turn oven to convention setting and place baking sheet with rack in the oven to bake the necessary amount of time. This results in baked foods that taste fried.
ELIMINATE UNNECESSARY INGREDIENTS
- Don’t add salt and/or oil to the water before cooking pastas, rice, and other grains, e.g., quinoa if being topped with other ingredients like a sauce.
- Don’t butter bread before adding ﬁllings to sandwiches. Assemble sandwiches before eating, so they don’t become soggy.
INGREDIENT COMBINATIONS AND REDUCTIONS
Before replacing an ingredient, consider reducing the amount or combining it with a more wholesome or healthier version of the same ingredient. Combine part of the simple carbohydrates called for in recipes with complex carbohydrate versions of the same ingredient:
- Reduce white ﬂour by replacing 1/2 of the amount called for with whole wheat ﬂour. Two cups white vs. 1 cup white and 1 cup whole wheat, etc.
- Reduce the amount of regular cheese by replacing 1/2 or more with reduced-fat cheese or just reduce the amount of cheese called for in a recipe by 1/4. Use a 1 1/2 cup vs. 2 cups, etc.
- Reduce the sugar in recipes by at least a fourth.
- Reduce the amount of butter, oil, or shortening called for in most baked goods recipes by up to half or more. This works best with recipes where the main ingredient isn’t a fat. Example, shortening, e.g. pie crusts.
You can reduce sodium and add flavor to recipes by using:
- Fresh herbs and spices
- Fruit and vegetable juices, wines, and liquors
- Low sodium stocks, broths, and soup bases
Depending on the recipe, the following substitutions can replace all or part of the shortening, butter, or oil in baked goods:
- applesauce and apple butter
- pureed fruits
- canned solid-pack pumpkin
- low-fat or fat-free yogurt
- low-fat or fat-free sour cream
- low-fat buttermilk
- regular or low-fat eggnog
Canned solid-pack pumpkin can replace fat in pumpkin and chocolate cakes, cookies, and bread. Pureed black beans work well in brownies, etc. In fact, any type of pureed, dense vegetable or fruit can be used as a fat replacement if it complements the other ingredients in the recipe.
Whole and 2% Milk: Use fat-free or 1% milk.
Sour Cream: Low-fat or fat-free sour cream or plain low-fat or fat-free yogurt can give you the same result with much less fat.
Cream: Use evaporated skim milk, half-and-half, or fat-free half-and-half.
Chocolate: Replace 1-oz. semi-sweet chocolate with 1 tbsp. Dutch processed cocoa powder mixed with 1 tbsp. sugar.
Full-Fat Cream Cheese: Replace with 1/3 less fat cream cheese.
Cheeses: Replace regular cheese with reduced-fat.
Note: Reduced-fat cheese has less moisture and tends to melt faster than regular, so add it at the end of cooking time, when possible. This works well for most dishes, e.g., pizza, soups enchiladas, etc.—top them with low-fat cheese a few minutes before removing from the oven.
Meats: Replace fatty cuts of meat, ﬁsh, and poultry with leaner versions. Remove skin and excess fat from meats whenever possible. Replace fatty ground meats with 93% lean or leaner ground beef, chicken, veal, buffalo, or turkey. 97% ground meat with 3% fat is the best choice.
Cuts of meat with the word “loin” in their name are usually lower in fat than other cuts, e.g., beef, or pork tenderloin, etc.
Carbohydrates: Replace processed grain products with whole grain, e.g., replace white ﬂour with whole wheat ﬂour, semolina pastas with whole grain, white rice varieties with brown rice varieties, etc.
NONSTICK AND STICK-RESISTANT COOKWARE
Lower cooking temperatures combined with a little cooking spray or liquid should prevent foods from sticking to most cookware. However, some types are better suited for low-fat cooking.
Stay away from inexpensive Teﬂon cookware—the surface has a tendency to ﬂake and peel. Also, thin aluminum or metal cookware is not recommended because of its inability to conduct heat evenly.
Note: Don’t use cooking sprays with nonstick cookware unless they are 99% residue-free— residue can ruin nonstick surfaces. Instead, use a small amount of oil spread over the pan’s surface.