Whether you like to follow recipes or try new things in the kitchen, try these 10 simple tips for healthy meals the next time you cook.
1. To reduce your sodium intake, use herbs, spices and/or lemon juice to add flavor to your food in place of salt. Experiment with fresh and dried herbs to bring new life to your recipes.
2. For cooking, choose olive, canola, or peanut oils which are low in saturated and trans fats. These oils are also high in monounsaturated fat, a “good fat” that can actually help lower your cholesterol and keep your heart healthy. Although these are healthier oils, remember they are still fat and contain calories, so use them sparingly. Look for an olive oil mister which can be filled with oil and used much like a can of cooking spray.
3. When buying any ground meat, always be sure to look for the labeling 90% fat-free or higher. Try ground chicken or turkey breast instead of ground beef and sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes. If you’re craving a high-fat beef burger with fried white potatoes, try a grilled turkey burger with oven-baked sweet potato fries.
4. In ground beef recipes, use ground round or ground sirloin. To make a healthier meat lasagna or pasta sauce, replace half the meat with peeled and finely diced eggplant.
5. For a creamy sauce for homemade macaroni and cheese, thaw frozen squash, puree and mix it with low-fat shredded cheese.
6. Substitute low fat ingredients for higher fat items in your recipes. For instance, you can substitute sugar-free applesauce for half the oil in a baking recipe, plain low-fat yogurt for sour cream, or two egg whites for one whole egg.
7. Cook extra food in advance and freeze it for those nights when you don’t feel like cooking or don’t have the time.
8. Skip the head of iceberg and choose other types of salad greens, which tend to be higher in nutrients. Mix a handful of fresh spinach in with a salad.
9. Almost anything you would normally fry can be baked, broiled or grilled. Try sautéing or stir-frying foods with water or low-sodium chicken broth.
10. To get the most out of your vegetables, prepare and cook them properly. If possible, do not cut vegetables until just before you plan to cook them. This will help preserve the nutrient content. Cooking vegetables for a short amount of time - until their color is brighter but they retain their crispness – will also preserve and possibly enhance their nutritional value. Cooked tomatoes, for example, lose some of their vitamin C, but are actually higher in antioxidants such as lycopene than raw ones. Avoid boiling vegetables, as this removes more nutrients than other cooking methods; for the best flavor and nutrition, try steaming your fresh vegetables for a short time.