Simple Ways to Be a Healthier Cook
Cook More Often
Don't be afraid to cook! Get the family involved & have fun. Cooking for yourself and your family, is the healthiest decision you can make- you will automatically make better decisions and choices including reducing fat, sodium and processed foods. It doesn't have to take a long time nor does it need to break the bank.
Salt and sodium are not the same thing. Yes, I understand that table salt is technically sodium chloride (by the way sea salt or Himalayan salt is much better because it also contains potassium, which balances out the sodium), what I mean is the sodium that you read on labels and that doctors talk about isn't necessarily the salt you cook with- there is a ton more sodium in processed food than when you cook with salt- that is what you need to avoid. So, the moral of the story is- don't be afraid to cook with salt, it is necessary for making delicious, well season food- yet use it wisely, over-salting is not good for you.
You are smart, you know that reading labels are important and foods have an impact on on the environment as well as our bodies. Choose sustainable foods and foods that are grown naturally, especially when selecting meat, poultry and fish- fish and shellfish should be farmed responsibly.
Use Quality Ingredients
Cooking healthy is about using great ingredients. Yes, you many pay a tad more for your ingredients, however you are still saving on the cost of processed foods, pre-made foods and eating out. Also remember left-overs make great lunches!
Buy an Instant-Read thermometer
This is a great way to ensure the meats that you have purchased are cooked to perfection. The more you and your family enjoy the food you cook and the easier time you have doing it, the more likely you are to do it often...
Think Seasonally When Cooking
In-season foods and produce not only taste far superior (think they didn't need to travel quite as far to get to your plate), but they contain more vitamins and antioxidants. Most importantly, they tend to be priced better too.
Ditch the Sweets at Breakfast
Try to avoid the refined carbs and added sugars that make up most of your current breakfast. Instead of pancakes, doughnuts or even steel cut oats that are loaded with jam or syrup make a healthier choice. Start your day with a savory veggie omelet, a soft-boiled egg or avocado toast. Eating protein and limiting sugar in the morning can help you feel more awake and energetic to make it through to lunch. Sugars just give you a jolt and then burn off, leaving you hungry and sluggish.
This can be difficult. Remember that a serving size and a portion size are not the same. The likelihood is that you are eating twice as much meat and refined grains at each sitting as you should be. Load up on veggies, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds instead.
Eat More Whole Foods
This should go without saying. Opt for whole grains (even in pastas or other starchy favorites), use fresh and frozen produce and buy fresh fish, meat and poultry that is not processed and not preseasoned. You'll get more vitamins and antioxidants and less sodium. This applies to dessert and snacks as well- choice whole grain and unprocessed. Making this simple change in your diet, will have a huge and lasting impact.
Stock Up on Healthy Convenience Items
And this doesn't mean highly processed junk. This means frozen organic edamame and berries., bulk purchased seeds, nuts and grains, as well as unsalted canned beans & tomatoes, and vegetable & chicken stock. Go for quality and minimal processing, but having these items around allow you to easily throw together a healthy, clean meal in little time. Use fresh ingredients such as citrus and herbs to give them vibrancy.
There are some amazing international flavor boosters such as miso, fish sauce, harissa, chipotle peppers, and samba oelek that are easily accessible in every grocery store. Don't think that these ingredients are only for "ethnic" recipes, they can make incredible additions to your every day foods such as brussel sprouts, pasta, burgers, meatballs and tacos.
Invest in a Cast Iron Skillet
They are work horses that can last forever. Once properly seasoned, it will become one of the most versatile pans you own- with a nonstick surface for gently scrambling eggs or screaming hot to get a hard sear on scallops or steak, or even for making a veggie pot pie! My personal favorite is a Lodge 10" that I bought from Williams Sonoma 20 years ago, and is still available today.
Eat More Plant Based Foods
Not only is it better for you, but it is also so much better for the planet. As said before, if you are not ready to go full on vegetarian (no judging, I promise!) then start slowly by having 1 or 2 vegetarian days a week. You will feel the difference on your waistline and your wallet.
Learn How to Balance Textures and Flavors
You never want to be bored by what you eat. Mashed potatoes or a creamy delicious soup can be totally fulfilling, but it turns to a total dining experience when you do something as simple as adding a little crunch from al dente vegetables or toasted nuts or seeds. The same goes for flavors, add a little citrus to savory (think lemon on chicken or with fish) or a pinch of salt to sweet (can we say salted caramel...) and you change the entire dish. Adding something so simple makes the dish instantaneously more complex and exciting.
Don't be Afraid of Using the Charring Technique
This isn't an excuse for over-cooking or burning your food :) Mastery of the technique of deliberately over browning the edges of your vegetables such as broccolini, while keeping them al dente, adds enormous flavor without adding any calories or fat!
Know Your Fats
Understand which fats are best used for different preparations, and use them only when you know that they will have an impact. For example, don't be afraid of using butter in a pie crust, but there is no need to grease a pan when you can use parchment paper instead. Stay away from over processed margarine (which is called vegan butter these days). Opt for great clean fats such as olive oil or safflower oil.
Toast For Flavor
A great way to add flavor without adding fat is to toast or brown your ingredients. Nuts taste richer and nuttier when toasted in a dry pan, and fresh spices taste warmer and earthier. Butter tastes richer and goes further when browned in the pan.
Be Good to Your Gut
Science is constantly uncovering more potential benefits to having a thriving guy micro biome (in simpler terms- the bacterial community it your GI tract): lower risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia, depression and so much more. Put more of the good bugs in your gut naturally (not by pills or marketing gimmicks...) by eating probiotic-rich foods such as kefir, and fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombudha and kimchi. And, be sure to fuel you bacterial team with plenty of prebiotics (food for your probiotics...), including whole wheat, garlic,onions, asparagus, and leeks. So what is not good for your gut? Again, it is no surprise, the things that you should avoid include artificial sweeteners, highly processed foods and added sugar.
I know this can be a challenge. But trust me, it is worth it to take the time to fully preheat your oven (when baking) or your skillet- otherwise, you won't get the proper rise or sear on whatever it is that you are cooking or baking. Thoroughly mix ingredients until they are emulsified, creamed or pureed. Use restraint when you are tempted to mess with the steak or tofu steak you are trying to sear. And, most importantly, let meats rest after they are cooked to allow juices to settle before slicing.
Mindless eating- is not a healthy habit and is the cause of surprising weight gain (or keeping it on) for many. As a nutritionist, this is one of the first things I try to teach my clients. Mindful eating- appreciating each bite with an awareness of what you ar putting in your body- on the other hand is not only a healthier approach, but a way of genuinely enjoying your food.
Use Herbs and Citrus
If you think of fresh herbs as just a garnish, you are missing out on so many levels! A handful of fresh herbs can easily turn a boring pasta into a fragrant, delicious and healthy meal! Or if a dish tastes flat, a little squeeze of lemon or lime juice- or a bit of zest- can bring it to life. These ingredients add simple flavor, vitamins and antioxidants without adding basically any calories, fat or sodium.
Add, Don't Subtract
It used t be that healthy eating was about what you couldn't or shouldn't eat. Turn that dated philosophy around. Now, our focus is on all the fresh, delicious, interesting foods that you should be eating- like avocados, beets, mussels, farro, harrissa, kimchi and coconut milk. Healthy eating is a celebration of color, variety, balance, and the intrinsic pleasures of food that make you feed so good and satisfied. If you eat this way, you will be a much healthier, happy cook and a great role model for you family & friends.