There are always those dishes that you know aren’t good for you but they are so delicious that you just can’t give them up. Well, what if I told you that you can still eat those amazing dishes without the calories, fat, sodium and sugar? Now, I know what you’re thinking, “maybe they’ll be better for me but they aren’t going to taste as amazing”. Before you stop reading, what if I also mentioned that you won’t have to compromise on flavor? Now I have your attention!
The tasty culprit in all of these recipes is most likely an unhealthy fat, butter, or sugars, which are easy to cut down or find substitutes for. I’m going to give you some general rules of thumb as to how to lighten up any dish as well as some great recipes for some of my personal favorites such as macaroni and cheese, brownies, and fried chicken!
General rules of thumb:
1. Research! Study the recipe and look for areas where you can cut out unnecessary ingredients. The first ingredient I look to cut is butter, substituting with margarine, or canola oil. I even sub in applesauce for oil in baked goods. Then I check the sweeteners to see what I can get rid of. Knowing the recipe back and forth will enable you to make changes.
2. Limit sodium. Always start by cutting the recommended amount of salt in half. If making soups or recipes that call for stock, if not homemade, always try to purchase the low sodium version at the store, this automatically reduces sodium by up to 40%.
3. Be wary of portion size. When you’re following a recipe that is meant for four that doesn’t have to be your portion size. Try by only taking ⅔ of the listed amount, you might find yourself already full! (This is always a great tip for eating out as well. Try only eating half of the serving at a restaurant and take the rest home for lunch the next day).
4. Panko is your new best friend. Use panko, a Japanese breadcrumb, instead of bread or cracker crumbs. By substutiting with panko when breading, frying or making crusts you can reduce your fat, calories and sodium by half.
5. Use egg substitutes. Some recipes call for a lot of eggs, which ends up really increasing fat and cholesterol (even thought blood cholesterol isn’t 100% effected by dietary cholesterol). When the egg count gets high, throw in egg beaters or your favorite egg substitute, you can reduce the fat by 5 g and sodium bye 200+ mg for each egg.
6. Zest up your recipes. This one has transformed my cooking! I zest everything from Brussels sprouts, to baked goods, to roasted chicken or tofu. Adding the zest of lemon, lime or oranges will really add flavor where its lacking.
7. Canoodle with canola oil. Canola oil is the top choice when using oil (using a nonstick pan can completely eliminate oil as well). Not only is it lowest in saturated fat and highest in unsaturated (“healthy”) fat, but it has the best omega3:omega6 ratio. But don't just do a "quick pour" because 1 tablespoon equals 120 calories. Always measure out your oil and start with half the recommended amount.
8. 1% is 100% better. Baked goods usually call for heavy cream, whole milk or half-and-half but I promise you can use 1%, fat free, soy or even almond milk without drying out your desserts. When making creamy soups I always let my soup cool and then whisk in fat free Greek Yogurt (such as Fage) to add creaminess without the cream!
9. You’ve gotta agave! Agave is a natural sweetener that is better for your body because there are no chemicals and it also does not release such a high insulin spike in your body. The caloric make up is similar to sugar but here’s the great part, a little goes a long-er way! 3 parts agave = 4 parts sugar so you don’t ever need as much agave when substituting for sugar, cutting down on sugar and calories.
10. Increase the good stuff! Most recipes will include vegetables, fruits and other good for you items, and this is really where the flavor is at! While you decrease some fat and salt, up the amounts for fruits and vegetables.
But the most difficult decision in the kitchen isn't how to make healthier dishes, it's what to make! I always get stumped and tired of making the same meals over and over. A wonderful resource is the Eating Well Serves Two cookbook
. I love this cookbook for a couple of reasons: first it's great even for one because you can always have the second portion for lunch the next day. It is also easy to cut down a recipe meant for 2 down to 1 easier than cutting down one meant for 4-6, which is usually the case. The second reason I absolutely love this cookbook is because every recipe takes only 30 minutes start to finish. You're in and out of the kitchen with a delicious, healthy recipe in no time.
Cooking isn’t easy in the first place so go easy on yourself. My best recommendation is to start small. Substitute half butter and half margarine, or half oil half applesauce, cut some salt and work your way up. Before you know it, you’ll be lightening up all of your dishes and you will be leading a healthier lifestyle.
Recipes from Cooking Light:
Creamy Macaroni and Chees
Lemon Ginger Fried Chicke
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