A friend recently asked me for some tips on healthy ways to prepare foods, since previously her main method of cooking was deep frying. I started by writing down a few suggestions for her, and then the list grew. I thought some of you out there might enjoy these ideas as well!
Salt: Instead of salt, garnish your food with parsley or lime juice.
- Instead of frying eggs, poach them in water, or hard or soft boil them in their shells.
- If you really want to fry your eggs, use a nonstick pan so you won’t need as much oil.
- Use more egg whites than yolks (this works great for omelets and scrambled eggs). E.g., use 1 whole egg + 2 egg whites (the yolks can be used or frozen for another purpose…maybe as a hair conditioning treatment?).
- Try to limit yourself to 1 egg yolk (but unlimited whites) per day.
- Instead of cooking veggies with a lot of oil or butter, you can either blanch them in boiling water or roast them in the oven.
- Roasting veggies can be done easily by cleaning and cutting the veggies of your choice (some veggies may not need to be cut, e.g. haricots vert), tossing them with a little olive oil/salt/pepper, and roasting them at 425F for ~20 minutes, flipping once during cooking. The actual cooking time will vary slightly depending on the veggies you use (for some reason I find that cauliflower usually take a little longer than something like potato), and also depending on what size you cut them. When the veggies are done they’ll be slightly golden brown on the outside, and they’ll have a rich, developed flavor. This method works great as an alternative for French fries, and it also works great for veggies like eggplant, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.
- Instead of deep frying fish, you can poach it (I find that tomato-based sauces work well for this) either on the stovetop or in the oven.
- If you want fish with a crispy outer coating you can put a little oil in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat; lightly dredge the fish in a flour/spices mixture, and cook on the stovetop with the lid off the pan (to keep the fish crispy); if you have a thick cut of fish you can finish cooking for a few minutes on a wire rack in a 450F oven.
- If you prefer tender, flaky fish you can season it with salt and pepper, brown it on both sides in a nonstick pan with a little oil, and then either put the lid on it or put it in a 350F oven to finish cooking. Whichever way you decide to prepare it, make sure to serve it with lemon or lime wedges.
- Try to eat fish at least 2 times a week.
- There are several things you can do to make sure that your chicken stays moist without cooking it in a lot of oil: (1) always soak your chicken before cooking it (soaking tenderizes the meat, keeps it moist while cooking, and improves the flavor by drawing out the blood); for 1 whole chicken cut into 10 pieces use ~2 TB vinegar (I use Chiavetta’s Marinade) and ~2 tsp salt (you can add other flavors to the soak, such as garlic, lemon, etc.), and then add enough water to completely cover the chicken; the bone-in chicken can be left to soak for ~3 days in the fridge, while the boneless chicken should only soak for ~3 hours in the fridge; make sure to rinse the soak off your chicken before marinating and/or cooking it; (2) cook your chicken on the bone (preferably with the skin removed).
- After the soaking process is done, if you want, you can add even more flavor with a marinade. I change my marinade ingredients depending on what I’m serving the chicken with, and how I want to cook it; generally, I leave the marinade on the chicken for ~2 hours in the fridge. If I want to make grilled tandoori chicken, I will marinade the chicken with yogurt, Indian spices (e.g. turmeric (for color), curry, garam masala, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, etc.), and a couple cloves of crushed garlic. If I want to make oven-fried chicken, I’ll marinade the chicken in buttermilk (or ~1 c milk mixed with ~1 TB white vinegar).
- Whether or not you choose to marinade the chicken, there are many ways you can choose to cook it so that don’t require a lot of oil: (1) grill it (if you don’t have an outdoor grill, you can use an indoor grill, and if you don’t have an indoor grill, you can use a broiler or a very hot oven); (2) slow-cook it either in a Crock-Pot, or in a covered casserole dish in a very low-temperature oven (~250F for ~3-4 hours); (3) roast or poach the meat and make it into a soup.
- Instead of fried chicken, I love oven-fried chicken; here is a recipe adopted from Cooking Light: Prepare a whole chicken cut into 10 pieces by soaking it and then marinating it in buttermilk. Preheat the oven to 450F. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk and slightly shake off the excess liquid; dredge the chicken in a flour/spice mixture (you can add cumin, pepper, chili powder, etc.) and gently shake off the excess flour. Lightly spray each piece with cooking spray (or lightly drizzle with olive oil), dredge one more time in the flour mixture, and gently remove the extra flour. Place the chicken on a baking sheet and lightly spray with cooking spray (or drizzle with a little olive oil), cook for 20 minutes, and then flip each piece; cook for ~15 minutes longer.
- When cooking ground red meat you can mix in other ingredients, which lets you add more flavor to the meat, make it more healthy (you’ll be adding in things like veggies and/or beans), and save money (you use less meat if you mix other ingredients in). Here are some things I like to mix in: mashed beans (for ground red meat I use brown lentils or black beans; this also works for ground poultry – for ground chicken I use cannellini beans and for ground turkey I use pinto beans), finely diced sautéed vegetables (such as onion, spinach, cauliflower, etc.), or shredded raw vegetables (such as carrot, zucchini, etc.).
- If you’re cooking steaks, roasts, or any larger cuts of meat, try to cook it so that the fat falls away while cooking (e.g. on a grill or in a roasting pan).
- If you’re cooking the meat in liquid (e.g. in a slow cooker or an oven-safe dish), you can skim off the fat when it’s done cooking.
- When making gravy for the meat, only use a couple of tablespoons of the fat drippings, and if you need more oil use olive oil.
- Try to limit eating red meat to 2 times per week.
- Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast. If you eat breakfast, you’ll eat less the rest of the day, and you won’t have as many cravings throughout the day.
- At every meal, try to include: lean protein (e.g. chicken breast, almonds, egg whites, tuna fish, etc.), healthy fat (e.g. olive oil, walnuts, avocado, salmon, etc.), and high-fiber carbohydrate (e.g. beans, whole grains, fruits, veggies, etc.). This will help to stabilize your blood sugar (again reducing cravings), and keep you feeling fuller longer.
- If you’re hungry between meals, eat. When you get hungry and it isn’t “meal-time,” first try drinking a whole glass of water. If you’re still hungry after that, eat as many fresh fruits and/or veggies as it takes to satiate your hunger.
- Be conscious of your beverages. Depending on the beverage, it could be high in calories and have a lot of fat, sugar, etc. Everyday make sure to drink at least 64 oz of pure water (not soda, juice, etc.). Try to limit your coffee intake to one cup a day, or replace coffee with decaf green tea. Studies indicate that green tea has anti-cancer properties, increases metabolic rate, boosts mental alertness, boosts immune system, lowers levels of stress hormones, inhibits the growth of bacteria that causes bad breath, and more (click here for more information).
- Replace artificial or processed products with natural or whole products. You might have cravings at first, but power through them…they should subside in about a week and then you’ll actually start craving healthy foods…believe it or not, your body craves whatever you give it most. Here are some replacement ideas: You can use basmati rice in place of long-grain white rice, and you can replace white bread and pasta with multigrain (Ronzoni Smart Taste Pasta tastes just like white pasta, but has 25% of your daily fiber, along with calcium and other vitamins…and it tastes just like regular white pasta); replace sugar-laden, nutritionally empty breakfast cereals with oatmeal. Instead of white sugar or even worse, artificial sweeteners, sweeten naturally with things like honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, etc.
- Make sure you know sources of healthy fats, so that you can replace your old favorites and not feel deprived. Earlier I mentioned a few sources of healthy fats (olive oil, walnuts, avocado, and salmon), but you need to find ways to make healthy fats fill the niche of your old favorites. E.g., if you love mayo you can substitute it on sandwiches either with mashed avocado (seasoned with a little salt, pepper, and lemon juice) or plain Greek-style yogurt. More information on healthy fats can be found here.