Today, I have some useful knowledge for you.
It may not be as exciting as sugar cookies or champagne – but it’s useful, nonetheless. As a matter of fact, the more cookies and bubbly you’ve recently enjoyed, the more useful this knowledge becomes.
That’s right – today we’re talking healthy lifestyle. No diets, no fads, no ridiculous rules you’ll never be able to sustain. Just good, old-fashioned tips and tricks to healthify what you’re already doing in the kitchen.
And if you’re not already in the kitchen, get in there. Cooking at home means full control over what you’re putting into your body. According to USA Today, people consume 50% more calories, fat and sodium when they eat out than when they cook at home. ‘Nuff said.
- Downsize those portions: Dividing a recipe into smaller serving sizes is the easiest way to cut calories, though often the most overlooked. Try eating a simple salad of greens topped with lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil before your meal so you can start filling up on something healthy, and make sure you’re adequately hydrated – thirst often disguises itself as hunger. Another tip is to use smaller dishes when plating your food; this tricks the mind into thinking you’re eating more. Lastly, eat slowly and pay attention to how your food tastes. Bethenny calls it the rule of diminishing returns: Your food tastes the best during the first bites; pay attention to when it stops tasting as good – chances are, you’re getting full. Why waste calories on food that doesn’t taste as good as when you first started eating it? My trick for eating small portions lies in eating frequent mini-meals throughout the day – you can read about it here, if you haven’t already.
- Cook with the skin, then lose it: Everyone knows that you shouldn’t eat that crispy, succulent skin on your roast chicken, but what you may not know is that you should still be cooking with it. If you’re making chicken breasts, to eat alone or for something else, like a chicken salad, roast them on the bone and with skin in tact for better flavor. Pan-searing chicken with the skin will also produce more flavorful meat, even after the skin is removed.
- Veggies, veggies, veggies: Add them to everything! They’re low in calories, and high in nutrients – so they’ll add bulk to your food without increasing your caloric intake. Adding veggies to your pizza is a no-brainer, and the same goes for your morning egg whites. Try chopping items like peppers or spinach and adding them to grains such as brown rice or quinoa. Puréed vegetables are another great way to add heft to both sauces and soups; try puréed carrots in your next spaghetti sauce, or puréed chickpeas in your next soup. Beans are great because they add protein, too – try them puréed in your next meatloaf or veggie burger. The options are endless. So endless, in fact, that I see another post dedicated to eating more veggies in our near future. Stay tuned!
- More chicken and veggie stock, please: As much as I love olive oil, it can easily add hundreds and hundreds of calories to anything sautéed. You can cut back by using just a touch of olive oil along with a bit of low-sodium stock to sauté or stir-fry. This way, you can retain the health benefits of the olive oil without all of those extra calories. You can also use stock to poach chicken or steam veggies for extra flavor.
- Go Greek in place of mayo + sour cream: Next time you’re making tuna salad, I dare you to swap half (or more if you’re feeling bold) of the mayo for fat-free Greek yogurt. It’s full of protein, devoid of fat, low in calories, and best of all – you won’t be able to taste the difference! Try this if you don’t believe me. You can use Greek yogurt in anything creamy – like dips, sauces, soups, or even casserole and lasagna dishes. Cream cheese can be swapped out for this magical wonder, and – believe it or not – you can even make frosting with the stuff. If you’re unsure of replacement proportions, I recommend going half and half the first time around. You can then scale back more or less after you see how it turns out.
- Cut the cream: If you’re making a creamy soup or sauce, try using half-and-half (or better yet, fat-free half-and-half) instead of heavy cream. And you can always count on your trusty non-fat Greek yogurt for a velvety burst of smooth and creamy flavor. Need yet another great replacement for cream? Try a purée of low-fat cottage cheese or ricotta and skim milk – either regular (add until desired consistency) or the powdered kind (3 tablespoons per cup of cheese).
- Make nice with citrus + spice, plus other low-calorie flavor solutions: Take advantage of ingredients packed with flavor, yet low in calories. Sauté onions or garlic as a base for tons of dishes and sauces to create depth of flavor; add a squeeze of fresh-squeezed lemon juice to veggies for a hit of brightness rather than dousing in butter. Instead of using bottled marinades full of processed and artificial ingredients and oils, try bathing your lean meats in a healthy, low-calorie creation of vinegar, juice, or wine, with just a touch of olive or canola oil. Low-fat buttermilk and non-fat Greek yogurt are also great natural tenderizers for meats. Simply add spices and – plus other tasty additions like garlic, citrus slices, or mustard – to your base and you’ll be just a few short hours away from tender, juicy meat packed with flavor.
- Be choosy with your cheese: Yes, cheese can still be part of a healthy diet – and thank goodness, because I don’t know what I’d do without it. When possible choose lighter-colored cheeses, such as mozzarella, feta, Parmesan, Swiss, and goat cheese – as a general rule, they’re typically lower in fat than colored varieties. As an exception, it’s smart to use intensely-flavored cheese, like extra-sharp Cheddar or Roquefort, as long as you use it in small amounts; this way, you can make a strong impact flavor-wise without adding a ton of extra fat and calories.
- Baking can be booty-friendly: Lighten up your favorite sweets and treats by partially substituting fats like butter and oil with fruits and veggies like applesauce, orange juice, and puréed pumpkin. Make those muffins, cakes, and breads work for you by replacing half of the regular flour with whole-wheat. We all love our chocolate, but sometimes just a little is enough; try replacing an ounce or two with cocoa powder, or better yet, high-fiber fruits. And an egg substitute may just be the easiest exchange of all – replace up to one half regular eggs with the stuff from the carton, and you’ll save about 45 calories per egg.
Did you learn something new? At the very least, I hope you were reminded that most recipes can be nipped and tucked in small ways that will make a difference over time. Do YOU have any tips or tricks you want to share? I’d love to hear them! Questions are more than welcome, of course, and let me know if you’d like me to get more in-depth on any of these topics in a future post.
Until then, bon appétit!